When Chickens Crow…

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

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YES SIR, ONCE UPON A COW

Papa, Pop-Pee & Mr. W

Papa had very little free time when he was still actively working full time on the farm. It was truly an “early to bed and early to rise” with a couple meals in between life which occupied his days. As his life’s progression pressed upon him and an unofficial retirement was thrust upon him, boredom sought to become his companion. He spent many long hours sitting on our front porch with only the positioning of his arms and head changing periodically. Sometimes he’d sit upright with his hands clasped behind his head, looking off into the distance seeing something I either couldn’t see or was not allowed to see. Other moments he’d sit with his clasped hands resting on his thighs with his head bowed. I’d asked him once if he was praying or if he was sad and he’d pull me inside his arms and say, “neither.” He’d say he was “just studying on things.” I wish now that I had pressed him on what things he was studying. The conversations we might have had if I had been older and had the foresight to enter into what could have been wisdom-filled conversations.

Apparently, Mother had been watching Papa, (her father), studying also. She had the wisdom and forethought that most loving mothers and daughters possessed. Somehow, without asking she diagnosed and prescribed the prefect solution to Papa’s doldrums and she did so without ever saying a word to him or asking his permission because he would have surely vetoed her machinations. Papa had begun to sink deeper into loneliness and isolation. One would think that loneliness automatically sought company, but too often it is quite the opposite. As loneliness becomes a constant in life, it seems to create a natural vacuum of isolation and that isolation becomes a door in which to hide behind or to keep others away. Mother was simply unmatched in reading the needs of those she loved. So, her solution was to call Pop-Pee and invite him to spend the morning indulging in all the coffee and Pound Cake he could handle while whiling away the morning playing Dominoes with Papa.

Pop-Pee & Mr. W

Pop-Pee was the most prickly, grumpiest, lovable little curmudgeon ever to travel the Piney Woods. Born 57 years before me, we were equals in our desire to keep all out except for some family and close friends. Neither of us cared much about making new friendships and was ill at ease with strangers, well, I was ill at ease whereas Pop-Pee simply preferred not to be bothered. A man of very few words but spoke volumes with his expressions. However, none of those expressions said, “Let’s get to know each other.” If he had not known you or your family for decades, there was no need for him to get know you. Even though he wasn’t easy to get to know, once you were reluctantly allowed to crawl underneath his heart, you belonged to him. Standing just barely Five feet four inches, with rich, dark brewed coffee-colored skin, Pop-Pee was a walking, talking enigma.

It was an exercise in futility to attempt to win an argument with Pop-Pee, simply because he wouldn’t argue. He had one pat expression that closed all attempts at reasoning, “No such a thing!” If there was anything or statement of which he did not agree, he would simple utter that phrase and the conversation, for all intents and purposes, was over. No matter the correctness or the logic, it did not matter to Pop-Pee, it was simply, “No such a thing.” The good Lord himself might surely have been stymied and confounded by his own little servant’s resoluteness and outright stubbornness. But stubbornness and all aside…Pop-Pee was my very dear friend. Afterall, how many five-year olds could boast of having had such a wonderful relationship with their very own leprechaun?

Pop-Pee had an insatiable love of all things sweet. His favorite meal replacement was a Honey Bun, which is a fried yeast pastry, containing cinnamon and a sugary glaze. Vanilla ice cream and Pound cake elbowed for second place in his junk food life. Each of these items contained more than a fair share of dairy products, either eggs, milk or butter…none of which Pop-Pee, supposedly, would allow past his lips! So, it was with a smile of resolution when we would serve him heaping helpings of Foremost ice cream sitting atop an inch-thick slice of Mother’s heavily egg and butter laden Pound cake. Everyone else within our family accepted this idiosyncrasy of Pop-Pee’s, everyone except me. I was the child Mother always described as one who would argue with a signpost; my response to that was, “But, Mother, if the signpost is wrong, shouldn’t we argue?” Well, Pop-Pee was my living and breathing signpost. You could present a fact, but the signpost would not change itself, neither would Pop-Pee.

“Pop-Pee, this cake has 10 eggs and a pound of butter,” I challenged him once. “No such a thing,” he answered. “Yes Sir, it does. I got them from the hen house yesterday for Mother and she put them all in the cake!” “No such a thing!” “And Pop-Pee, there’s milk in the ice cream.” “No such a thing,” he had mumbled while shoveling another spoonful of cake and ice cream into his mouth. I don’t know which one of us was more exasperated with the other. Ten out of ten times I would finally just stare at him with all manner of disrespectful thoughts filling my head and he would sit and smile his very tight and contained smile while meeting my stare head on. In all the years that I’d known Pop-Pee, I had never known him to lose himself in laughter, but he always had an ever-present, mischievous twinkle in his eyes. He lovingly put up with me being five and I accepted that he was just addle-minded where butter, milk and eggs were concerned but that bit of oddness was not enough to toss him aside, actually it made me adore him all the more, he changed for no one. We loved each other, that Old Man and me.

I didn’t know Mr. W as well as I knew Pop-Pee but since Pop-Pee allowed him into his small circle of friends then he was O.K. with me. Mr. W was tall and slender, at least he was taller than both Papa and Pop-Pee. Mr. W had a complexion almost completely opposite of Pop-Pee’s, and that was about the extent of my knowledge of him. He was the quietest one of the three and had what I considered to be a sadness about him. There was nothing of which I had any personal knowledge that would account for my assumption of Mr. W and I never had reason to changed it.

Pop-Pee and Mr. W lived less than a half country mile from each other thereby, once a week for at least 2 years, perhaps 3, on Monday mornings, Pop-Pee would pick up Mr. W in his circa 1949-50 Ford sedan in order to compete in a Domino Marathon which took place on our front porch, mostly rain or shine. With Pop-Pee driving at his break-neck speed of 20 mph, the normally 5 to 10-minute trip would take 20 to 30 minutes. But, to compensate for the minutes lost to the drive-time, Pop-Pee would pick up Mr. W at 7:30 in order to reach our farm by 8:00. Mother made sure to keep the coffee hot.

Three of a Kind & Big 6 Down!

Regardless of how long it took them to arrive, Papa had begun to look forward to this break in his interminably long week. There was no need to urge him to rise and shave. He was washed, dressed and prepared to meet his buddies with no prompting whatsoever. He took charge of moving the little wooden table from its resting place in our hallway onto the front porch. He also made sure that the 2 ladder-back, rawhide bottomed chairs were placed at the table along with a wooden bench. All were placed at the far end of our comfortably, shaded front porch. The position he chose held a perfect vantage point to not only greet visitors but also to see any visitor’s advancement toward our property.

In spite of their ages, these elderly men did not dawdle or toddle. Their steps were firm and assured even if their strides were shorter. They would exit from Pop-Pee’s sedan and exercise in a bit of stretching and once all of their bits fell back into place, giving thanks to gravity, they were fully ready to “sit” again and devote themselves to the little domino table.

***

There were no kindergarten classes offered within our school district therefore, school did not begin for us until the age of six, generally speaking. Because of that minor detail in our educational system, I was on hand to witness the slow motion Big 6 Domino Marathon. The game that separated men from boys. The game that allowed for “trash-talking” which held no real danger of being interrupted by fisticuffs. It was a game that challenged one to not only determine which dominoes where being held in the opponents hands but to also anticipate 3 or 4 moves in advance and calculate how the dominoes you held could either end the game quickly by sewing up the game (blocking the board whereby no moves where possible) or by setting up a play whereby dominoing (playing all the dominoes in your hand before your opponents) is assured and scoring as many points as possible while also garnering the points of the other players by counting the actual spots of the dominoes they were left holding. Dominoes is not a simple game of chance; it is indeed a game of mental skill. Scoring is not always the ultimate goal but playing while hopefully, allowing your opponent little to no opportunity to affect the gameplay is ideal. There are many fine nuances to the game of Dominoes, one should not conclude that it is a simple game of matching spots. I would even venture to suggest that the game of Dominoes is the Poor Man’s Chess.

It goes without saying that I was thoroughly fascinated by both the game itself and the manner in which it allowed for opposition and camaraderie, simultaneously. I stood between Papa’s legs, watched his plays and learning the game. I had not yet learned to count beyond 20, but by George, I learned to count the spots on the board and to multiply by 5 all without realizing that these three old gents had taught me third grade math science before I’d learned first grade math skills. I became so adept at the game that often, even after I had started school, I was often absent on Mondays in order to provide a partner to one of the Three. At five, I was officially adopted into the Three Old Men Club and nothing or no one, not even Mother, could challenge my right to sit at their little table! I had full and complete Club rights with the exception of being able to partake in their leisurely cups of coffee…but I did have my own slice of Pound cake. My love of Pound cake goes arm and arm with my love for those Three Old Gents, Dominoes and trash talking.

They taught me so many life lessons without seeming to do so. Beyond the very early and advanced Mathematics education, I learned that men naturally responded in a positive way when spoken to in a particular manner. (It has worked when I’ve applied it in marital situations, but I’ll admit, that it generally grates against my nature, so I only use it when the situation absolutely calls for it and eye-rolling at myself always follows.) I learned that the type of women men generally appreciated laughing with, sharing jokes with and flirting with were very different from the women men ultimately trusted to prepare their suppers and with whom they preferred waking up. Actually, I learned that there was a difference between sleeping with and waking up with a person. Ok, so I learned that waking up with a person was a longer commitment than sleeping with a person, the fine points of which took a decade or so to understand. I learned that Miss Maude, Miss C and my Mama were the kind of women worth waking up to. I didn’t know if either of these three men went to sleep with anyone they didn’t wake up with, and I didn’t yet know how that would be possible but at this point in my life, I prefer believing that they never did, (ok, that eye-roll thing just totally happened without my permission)! Now, the woman who enters the next paragraph, I sort of believe was not the type of woman that any of them would have preferred to wake up to.

Very vividly I recall a Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1960. Unexpected visitors stretched the confines of our farmhouse to its limits. People occupied the TV area, watching and listening to Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese calling play by play of some baseball game or another. Every available space around our huge kitchen table was occupied with one person even sitting in the window which opened to the back of the table. The back porch didn’t escape occupation either, it was mostly taken over by kids of my sister and brother’s age. Even a couple of the bedrooms had become refuge for those who couldn’t force a fit into the TV room or the Kitchen. Only the front porch was spared overcrowding and that’s possibly because Papa and Pop-Pee had staked their claim on that particular territory while sitting at the little domino table, preparing for a three-person game, me being the third person. I found their company infinitely more appealing and chose to remain with them and there I stayed until a mid to late fifties, more than ample, more than full-bodied female walked out onto the front porch without invitation and began talking to Papa and Pop-Pee, ignoring me altogether. I suppose Papa believing something untoward was about to or could happen, sent me on an errand to bring back a glass of water. The female had planted herself firmly within the front doorframe thereby blocking my exit back from the kitchen onto the porch. Undaunted, I backed up two or three steps and entered my Papa’s bedroom which was situated directly off the front porch and had two tall and low hung windows which opened unto the porch. I stepped out of one of the windows just in time to see the female lift her very large dress which revealed fold after fold after fold of wobbly flesh producing a full-frontal visual attack upon both Papa and Pop-Pee!

(I’d since learned that she gained great, howbeit sad, pleasure from the shock value of her actions.) I was dumbstruck! I wondered who and when would someone on this heretofore sacred ground punish this woman for doing something so unholy! I wasn’t allowed to even get out of the bathtub without being fully wrapped, neck to knees! I wondered if she wore no panties because there were none large enough to contain her. Thank Heaven and guiding Angels that her many folds prevented anything else from being revealed! I looked desperately toward Papa and Pop-Pee who were not aware that I had returned to the porch from behind them. Would they chastise this woman? Papa pursed his lips tightly, tilted his head to the left as he squinted and looked askance toward the floor. Pop-Pee came as close as I’d ever seen him come to laughing aloud! Other thoughts were niggling at my mind trying to make sense of this scene playing out in front of me, but my thoughts were interrupted by Pop-Pee’s voice addressing Papa, “Well Bob, have you ever seen anything like it?” Papa, with his head still down and without missing a beat replied, “Yes Sir, I have…Once Upon A Cow!

I can’t be sure she heard Papa’s comparison of her exposed body parts to that of a cow, (Papa long before had a successful career as a butcher, so I trusted his assessment), but her dress went down immediately and she left the porch without delay. Her attempt to either seduce or shock was lost upon those old gents and with that vision, my first and final lesson in “it takes all kinds,” was complete, nothing more needed to ever be added. I didn’t understand all or even most of what had transpired in front of me that day but seeing Pop-Pee almost fall to open laughter made me giggle then and has each and every time that day has come to remembrance and the few times of which I’ve come face to face or face to tail with a bovine of a particular weight, I’ve picked up where Pop-Pee left off and let rip sinus clearing laughter!

It was all so much more than Dominoes and I’ve never found another club worth joining. My Grandmother’s acknowledgment that no one is ever dead who is remembered gives me satisfaction that The Three still lives:

Papa 1881-1968 Pop-Pee 1897-1979 Mr. W 1899-1990 Me 1954 – Still living to tell their stories

Papa, Pop-Pee and Mr. W, I know you don’t like playing a three-person game so save me a seat at your table against the day when I’ll join you again, when our game can resume and remember…No Cows Allowed! I’m sending each of you a table full of my thanks and twice as much of my love.

Just sign me…The Fourth Member of your Three Member Club. ❤️

!Safer at Home!

Thinking of the Thousands, young and old, lost to Covid-19

Tall Tales About a Short Man

Several years before Chinee passed away, while having one of our weekly gabfests in which Papa, our grandfather was the subject, I mentioned Papa’s height as being somewhere around 6’1” or 6’2”. I heard the Chinee’s familiar belly deep laugh spreading across the 1800 miles distance and although I was always thrilled to hear his infectious laughter, I couldn’t imagine the reason for it this time.

When he’d finally regained his composure, he breathlessly informed me that Papa was a “short” man. I could tell by his breathing that he was threatening at any moment to break out in loud guffaws again. I needed to think. I didn’t want to abruptly end our telephone conversation but Chinee could not have known that he’d just sent me into an emotional tailspin. Almost every one of my memories of Papa centered around his physical statue. Surely, a man with such a strong presence, one who commanded and received respect from all races and ages would also have the height and bodily physique to bolster those admirable attributes, wouldn’t he?

Could Hercules have been a hero without the corporeal features we’ve become so familiar with through Greek mythology? Some erstwhile scholars had surmised that Samson, of Biblical fame, was disarming physically because his strength owed nothing to his appearance. Despite the pictures presented to us in early childhood Bible stories, those same scholars reasoned that no one would have been surprised at all by the strength of a towering, muscle-bound hunk of a man. Therefore, Samson must have been a man who, beyond an awesome head of hair, had little to account for his physical strengths. Because of their scholarly assertions, I’ve had to refocus my views of Samson and thanks to Chinee, so did I also of Papa.

Before bidding Chinee a farewell in that particular phone call, I gathered enough nerve to ask him how tall he thought Papa had been. He reasoned that Papa could have been no taller than 5’7” or 5’8” and that might have been a generous approximation. Having reached my full height of 5’5” at around the age of 13, I was just a little crestfallen to think that the Hercules in my life had turned out to be my Samson. No matter, for if Papa were here standing next to me today and I was 6’5” and he 5’5”, I’d still be looking up at him! I hope you enjoy the stories in my next series of tall tales about my short Papa.

It was probably around 10 or 10:30 in the morning because Papa had already made his first rounds of the fields, fed the animals, curried our horse and was, judging by some of the sounds coming from the kitchen, having a second or third cup of coffee and a very lively discussion with Mama. Mama had already visited her kitchen garden and gathered onions, okra and other vegetables to be used in the noon day meal we East Texans used to call dinner. The sounds of their discussion were being spoken in low but agitated hushed tones so I could not make out what they were saying but I supposed that it wasn’t meant for me to hearw. It was summer and Chinee, as normal, was spending part of the summer with relatives some sixty to eighty or so miles away in Beaumont and Port Arthur and my sister was had gone to town with Mother.

At the very moment that my curiosity gained enough confidence to allow me to eavesdrop on Papa and Mama’s conversation, I was liberated from the compulsion by a call of, “Ooo, Con’ Robert, there,” coming from the front yard. I recognized the caller voice as belonging to one of Papa’s good friend, Con’ Gene. Papa’s chair scrape against the kitchen floor as he pushed back to get up from our large, oversized kitchen table. I was all set to join Papa in the long hallway which began directly off our front porch, intersected the main rooms of our house and ended in the kitchen but Papa had chosen a more indirect route by exiting the house via our back porch which was immediately off the kitchen. I had to hurry in order to catch him since he’d already cleared the backsteps and I was only able to catch up to him by jumping off the back porch and avoiding the steps altogether. Mama’s warning for me to stop running made its way to my ears only after my feet had left the porch and before landing a perfect 10 on the ground mere inches behind Papa! Success! I wouldn’t have miss anything that was said between Papa and Con’ Gene after all!

There were few things better when I was growing up than to be permitted into “Grown Folks” conversations especially when you were the youngest and most good things were kept from you either by conspired adult secrecy or as I was later to learn, by adults speaking their Grown Folks language called “Talking Over Their Heads” which could be accomplished by using double entendre or by communicating beyond the level of comprehension of the wayward listener, of which I was on this specific day.

As Papa narrowed the distance between the backyard and the front, I like an overly excited puppy, was right on his heels. Papa was mumbling under his breath, words I’d usually heard him use when the last 10-penny nail he was hammering would bend just as he was trying to finish up whatever project on which he was working, especially if it was the last nail. He’d use the same murmurings when he’d miss the nail entirely and the hammer would land on his thumb instead. I’d also heard him toss out the same rendering when Ole Mack, the farm’s plow horse and Papa’s 1-horse powered transportation, would become temperamental under the bit and behave more like a jackass than a stallion. Oh Yes indeed, in case you’re wondering, Papa could curse a blue streak and shame any country preacher and I’d heard him do so more than once especially when he didn’t know I was nearby. I’m not certain if he had been aware of my presence that day but even so, he was saying something akin to, “Concern, the Concern, the CONCERNED LUCK!!!!” At least that’s what it sounded like to me and whether those were the actual words or not, I have on many occasions adopted their usage when more colorful words would not have been appreciated.

On this particular morning, not only had Papa’s normally light cinnamon colored skin taken on a deeper ruddiness, speaking clearly to the fact that something had him fairly upset and which also served as a warning to most people but his forehead had deep furrows and a frown was sat upon his face. Papa’s normally slow deliberate steps were also different because he was walking with such speed that his one unbuttoned overalls shoulder strap was almost flying horizontally behind him. Something had surely angered him this morning yet, Papa hadn’t been hammering and to my knowledge Ole Mack had been on his best behavior. Maybe his use of those words had more to do with whatever he and Mama had been discussing prior to Con’ Gene’s greeting. They hadn’t sounded angry with each other yet here was Papa overtaking the several yards from back to front in a record few steps and me running to keep up with him.

As I think back, perhaps he didn’t know I was behind him until his sudden stop at the front gate caused me to collide with his backside. He reached out to steady me and then lifted me up in his arms as he exited the front gate and entered the wide driveway of our house.

Con’ Gene was maneuvering his two mules and the slide so that he was now facing back the way he’d come. (A slide was wagon without wheels, usually used to haul heavy items and could save the difficult effort of having to lift items the additional two to three extra feet in height which wagon wheels would add. It was a common tool on farms and was especially useful in field work whereby produce and sacks of feed would not have to be lifted or barrels of water could be easily loaded, filled and hauled into fields to irrigate crops during dry spells. A slide could also be counted on not to get bogged down in soft earth).

I can scarcely remember a time when Con’ Gene wasn’t on his slide, appearing as a Captain upon his bridge, giving commands to Jenny and Black Gal, his two mules. Just as Papa sidled up next to the slide, Con’ Gene yelled out, “Whoa there, Black Gal!” I thought he was making reference to having seen me run headlong into Papa’s rear-end. He and Papa offered gruff sounding greetings to each other which puzzled me. Why on earth did all three adults standing on this farm today seem angry or upset with hardly any words having been spoken? Con’ Gene looked at me, still in Papa’s arms, and greeted me with, “Mornin Big Eyes.” I determined I didn’t like that name any more than I’d liked it when I thought he was calling me Black Gal but since Papa wasn’t frowning anymore I forgave him instantly as Papa slid me back to the ground and just as he did, Black Gal nipped at me! I further decided, then and there, that I didn’t like her…and tried to gather enough nerve to walk around her in order to reach Jenny who seemed to have a nicer disposition, at least she wasn’t braying and pulling against her harness.

I listened as Con’ Gene and Papa talked about their animals, mules and horses, specifically. Their conversation wasn’t exciting enough to keep me completely enthralled although I did manage to pick up snippets here and there. It all sounded so mundane to my, as yet, untrained ears especially owning to my inability at age 5, to decipher the Adults only language.

Con’ Gene mentioned something about another mule at home in his kitchen, (but I thought he only had these two), and why and how if he had another one, would he leave it at home in his kitchen? And why would Miss Allie even allow a mule in her kitchen anyway? That was just almost unbelievable…I’d have to ask Papa about this later because while I had been granted the opportunity to stay with these two men during their conversation, I would not be welcomed to comment on it. I was more than happy to wait until Papa, and I were alone again to ask him about the mule in Con’ Gene’s kitchen. But just as I was about to happily skip away to some other more interesting pursuit, I heard Papa say that his mare wasn’t so wind broken that she couldn’t stir things up in his house too. What… was… he… talking… about??? Neither Mama or Mother had she been home, would have allowed Papa to bring a horse in the house and besides, Ole Mack was a gelding which meant he was a boy and not a mare which was a girl! At this point, I had to agree with a sentiment I’d often heard other women declare, “MEN!” These two men were certainly hard to make sense of although that last comment of Papa’s seemed to have taken the angry edge from both of their voices. As they continued to laugh and talk about their mules and mares, I took great pains to stay away from the working end of Black Gal! I truly believed that it was she who had the bad temper and not the mule Con’ Gene had left in his kitchen! Every time I tried to walk around her to reach Jenny, she would again nip at me. At some point the men stopped talking about their beasts of burden and began watching my antics. I didn’t want to leave Papa’s field of vision, but I dearly wanted to say howdy to Jenny. Frustrated, I blurted out to Con’ Gene as to whether he would please leave Black Gal at home next time and bring the mule he’d left in his kitchen. I don’t know why my question left them both doubled over in boisterous laughter and if my life had depended upon it, I could not have explained what had caused it. But in that very exact moment, Mama appeared on the front porch calling out a greeting and inquiring of Con’ Gene’s wife. “I left her piddlin around the kitchen, so I reckon she’s better since I left,” was his reply. Papa looked over his shoulder toward the front porch where Mama stood and asked her to bring Con’ Gene a dipper of water. Con’ Gene gave his thanks but declined the offer saying he needed to head toward home, or Allie would be upset about having to hold up dinner.

I was sorely disappointed to see them leave so soon because I’d still not had a clear opportunity to reach Jenny and because Papa’s scowl was beginning to return. As Con’ Gene pulled away, Mama told Papa that she had set the table for dinner. She’d said that Chicken and Dumplings, Fried Okra, Cornbread and Buttermilk (Cush-Cush) and blackberry cobbler would grace his table, the frown left Papa’s face and a smile found his lips. Papa picked me up again and we followed Mama into the house and as she had promised, we found the table laden with her wonderful dishes and a basin of warm water, soap and a towel for which Papa and I were to use to wash before feasting.

After we had thanked God for His bounty and asked His benevolence for those less fortunate, and as Mama ladled steaming helpings Chicken and Dumplings onto our plates, I’d asked Papa if he thought Miss Allie would have gotten the mule out of the kitchen in time to cook Con’ Gene’s dinner? Papa almost spit out whatever he had put into his mouth and Mama folded her arms across her bosom and with a mild look of consternation, cast in both of our direction, suddenly and without any reason I could determine, both roared in unmeasured laughter…

…Still laughing, Papa reached over and patted my head and I, after being thoroughly baffled by adults for at least the last couple of hours, decided to be quiet, to be still and just eat. I didn’t want to be laughed at any more today or the week for that matter. Maybe I’d remember to recount my story to my sister when she returned, and I could ask her what she thought had been so funny to these adults today. But regardless of why they had laughed, Papa was no longer murmuring under his breath, Mama was no longer obsessively washing the same pan over and over and HOPEFULLY, Con’ Gene and Miss Allie were enjoying an equally wonderful and laughter-filled supper.

…. Chickens Crowing ain’t always a bad thing is it Papa?

Musings of a Self Imposed Shut-In

Helloooooo from way over here in the isolated section of my bedroom! Nope, I’m not sick, merely self-isolated. If you’re like me and trying to follow the advice of the Scientific Community by Staying In, then you’re probably also like me and maybe just on the verge of needing a half pill of Xanac just to cope with being shut-in! I never desire to do anything as badly as when I’m told I can’t! One of the things I adore doing most is roaming the aisles of grocery markets. Even when traveling, I don’t care much at all about sightseeing; my first stops are always at local markets. And now…that I’m being told to refrain even from that, unless absolutely necessary, I’m very near the point of having my car voluntarily booted and my steering wheel locked to keep temptation at bay. I’ve never considered shopping for groceries a necessity which had to be tolerated and with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas, shopping has always been a secretive and guilty if not bordering on hoarding, pleasure.

So now I’m stuck, here at home checking off the supplies that stand sentry on the shelves in my garage and in my makeshift pantry which shares space with my laundry room and wondering when they will be empty enough that I can feel justified by masking up, gloving down and venturing out to my local markets and visiting some of the counter-parts of my fellow blogger, The Grocery Whisperer! By the way, that blog makes for some really enlightening shopping moments. Check it out when you can.

Now that I have shared one of my not so secret pleasures, grocery shopping, I need to really try to indulge in another, writing. I’m finding it really difficult to write with all of this leisure time on my hands. Wouldn’t you think it to be totally opposite? I find having a deadline, even if self-imposed, to be absolutely necessary in successfully creating. But I’ve been quite stymied in my efforts to write leisurely since I have no other place pressing me to be. Even “Papa” and his Friends tiring of my procrastination, suddenly without notice, decided to go on hiatus from my mind and left me scrambling for something, anything of which to write.

With these times being what they are, it’s difficult to walk that fine line between compassion and humor so I decided to forego both…well, sort of. But here goes:

Several people of whom I consider having a close bond, have been stricken by this contemptible plague, (virus seems much too tame a name). Members of my Church’s congregation and family members of friends are being affected either by illness or unemployment. I’ve witnessed weddings postponed, and traditional funeral services denied. Churches have closed and entertainment venues across all spectrums have ceased and I couldn’t help but wonder, why? And then, I gathered up my few working brain cells and decided what matter, why? It is and that’s all. Now what? Put your big girl panties on and deal with it, is what! And my way of dealing with anything of which I have no personal control is to meditate and pray and I have been doing plenty of both…I have the time now. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why for me, this thing could have a silver lining.

I’ve allowed my mind to wander back over comments made by friends and acquaintances as to why they no longer attend Church services and how they feel that Christianity has sunken to a level of hypocrisy of which they could not tolerate, which I don’t mind saying is a bit hypocritical in itself, but I digress. I’ve always tried to exercise tolerance tempered with Truth. Truth after all is the very basis of my blog.

Over the years, I’ve pleaded with many of them to not swipe me with their “So-called Christians” paint brush. (Ok, I feel I must at this point provide a PSA of my own making: I am a certified, card carrying, unashamed, Christ believing, Christ following, Bible toting [E-Bible but still…], unapologetic Sinner Saved by Grace!). Now if that turns some of you off, I understand but please stick around until the end of the post even if only for a cursory, skeptic, agnostic, atheistic value, I don’t mind.

I will admit, that I too feel that God’s House, (Churches) have been assaulted for centuries from people without. However, they have never been successful in bringing down the house of God. Therefore, masterful tactics began being used thousands of years ago to destroy and discredit believers from within, from the “Tear Them Down from the Inside Crowd.

My Lord’s own brother wrote of this passionately, speaking of those who slipped into the Church unnoticed and gained a foothold within its congregation to sow discord and factions. He wrote in the book of Jude verse 14, “certain men have crept in unaware…ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness and denying the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” I’ll admit that one of modern-day Church’s major downfall is its failure to fully vet those of whom they put in charge of shepherding and teaching its flocks and that perhaps, is the reason former congregants are levelling their complaints.

When this thing, this plague, first came upon us, I thought maybe it was the work of God. Upon this I vacillated and wondered if it might actually be the work of his Adversary…then yet again, I solidified my bearings and realized that even if this was the work of he who declared himself falsely, equal to God, he could still do no more in this realm or any other without the expressed consent of our Creator. Being absolutely convicted and dogmatic in that belief, I allowed myself to venture a bit further into my meditation of these particular times and the effects of which are now on display.

I thought, “what an absolutely brilliant way to sweep the hypocrites and charlatans from God’s established churches. If my life has taught me nothing else, (and we know that’s not a fact), it would be that the Spiritually Sick will never be found voluntarily around the Spiritual, but Physically Sick. Ohhh, they will show up if there is something specifically of value for them, but rest assured they will never burn oil doing good when there is a danger of them getting burned. Discounting those who had medical reasons as to why attending a physical church was not feasible when this plague began, the first to bow out of services were generally the CEO, (Christmas and Easter Only) attendees, followed closely by the perpetually disgruntled. The ones who don’t attend services to sow good seeds but to make sure that the good seeds sown by others are mowed down before they have a chance to sprout. I am declaring their efforts ineffectual and wasted! The True Church of God will not fail!

I applaud those faithful Ministers, Pastors, Shepherds, Teachers and congregations who desired to March Forward on these past Sunday mornings, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings with Bibles in hand and praises on their lips! They took incoming fire from the ones who had crept in unnoticed and were the first clamoring for closure of the Churches, Synagogues and Temple doors. Where they had failed by infiltration and contrary doctrine, they reasoned perhaps this virus would succeed. They sought to find fault in those Onward Christian Soldiers by calling them fools, as they stood back smugly although wrongfully and thought themselves successful.

It will take more than a pandemic, (over which God is in control) to plow under the True Church of God. Satan played his best hand over 2000 years ago when he reckoned the Cross was his ace in the hole. Oh, but what he didn’t figure was his ace in the hole would not be able to hold Who was temporarily put into a Hole! Because HE GOT UP! HE DIDN’T STAY TOO LONG! HE GOT UP!!!!

Prior to that fallible ace of Satan’s being played against Him, Jesus asked his disciple Peter, “who do men say I am…” At the end of that dialog, Jesus then asked Peter, “but who do YOU say I am?” Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, The Son of The Living God.” Jesus responded, “Upon this Rock, I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” It was upon that glorious foundation of Truth of which Peter spoke, by the unction of the Holy Spirit, where the True Church of God can be found.

This current virus/plague and the others which will certainly follow, may have been unleashed from the pits of hell and whereas it might be successful in temporarily closing brick and mortar Church doors, we all would be wise to remember that the True Church of God is not a Building in which we reside but a foundation of Truth which resides in us, the Believers. The Word of God will forever stand. Long after me, the writer of this missive has left this realm, God’s Word will be carried forward by others and The Son of God will remain always King of Kings!

If I have offended any readers by my declarations herein, I’m afraid offering an apology would be hypocritical. I cannot, will not apologize for doing so. I have always spoken my truth and quite honestly, I would rather offend a reader than offend my Savior.

If this plague or any other becomes the means or the vehicle by which I or some of my fellow Christians are carried to our eternal reward, let it be known that I would still declare: GLORY, GLORY HALLELUJAH; GLORY, GLORY HALLELUJAH, HIS TRUTH IS MARCHING ON!!!!!!

PAPA

As most of you know, this blog began as a sublime conversation with my grandfather. Who, in my eyes, was man who stood second to no one. A person, who every decent man within his bloodline strove to emulate, even if they didn’t know him personally, it was, is, genetic. Papa was all I wished my father had been. As a young child, my days did not begin until I saw his face and many days did not end which did not find me cradled in his arms. In today’s overused vernacular, “He was my Person.” Chinee was my heart and every decision I made was tempered by the overwhelming passion he brought to anyone or anything he cared about. He taught me to care deeply about the things that should be loved. Given time and proper consideration, you’ll find that is not an altogether simple concept.

Papa on the other hand, gave me balance and direction.  As he aged and became feeble only in body, without my knowledge, he guided me gently toward his grandson my brother, and deposited my continued familial education into his care.  Chinee had spent seven years longer than I under Papa’s tutelage and therefore had become his very reluctant student. Papa was a harsh taskmaster with Chinee and the other males under his care because he knew that if his sons and grandson could withstand the weight and pressure, he placed upon them, the world would have an infinitely more difficult time in its efforts to crush them.  Papa’s lessons came from love whereas the worlds’ lessons would come with hate.

The females in Papa’s circle were loved with open arms as he gave all he had and struggled to find more to give, but he was not blinded by our faults or weaknesses.  He was fair in his assessments of us, yet he wasted no effort in pointing out those weaknesses.  He loved us in spite of them and attempted to guide us around the pitfalls we would undoubtedly create for ourselves because of those weaknesses.  However, if anyone attempted to create pitfalls for us, you could almost be certain the bodies would never be found.  If there was ever anyone Papa loved more than his wife, his only daughter and me, I’ve never met them.  (ok, I’m writing this from my perspective…there might be one or two others he loved equally but definitely none more!).  I was that granddaughter who insisted on learning at his knee; who followed him or tried to follow him everywhere.  He was the one to whom I’d toddled when as a young child the thunder and lightning made me quiver in fear.  It wasn’t enough just to have him hold me with those strong and roughly calloused hands, but my utter sense of safety was only to be found underneath Papa’s t-shirt, those sleeveless units of underwear which have for the last fifty or so years, come to be known by the hideous name of “wife-beaters”.  There were few places this side of Heaven which offered as much security as that which I found underneath Papa’s shirt listening to his steady, rhythmic heartbeat, drowning out all other external stridency.

Papa was born in August 1881, sixteen year after the “declared” end of slavery, almost a century before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, exactly one hundred years before the birth of my youngest son (1981) and eons upon eons upon eons before the founding of “true” equality, yet still to be found. But there was one particular event during his early life which shaped him as no other.  

One of two of the many prolific lessons he taught me gave name to this blog, if you are joining me mid-range or even now, please visit the first entry of this site and see how his simple but profound insight into people will leave you in awe. The second guiding point was and is something of which has colored my life; further it is something of which I’ve shared with my sons and believe they have used it on their life’s path as well. There has never been a single day in my life when I’ve not considered this particular statement of his: “Your name is the only thing that you came into this world with and will be the only thing that you will take with you when you leave it so, take care of it because your name will go places your feet will never take you.” I’ve shortened it over the years to: “your name will go places you never will.” This is an undeniable truth. Even within this forum, Readers from the UK, Australia, France and Germany have found their way to this blog. I’ve certainly never been to any of these wonderful places, yet my name and thoughts have traveled there and to my knowledge and prayerfully, I’ve done nothing to reflect negatively upon my name nor more importantly, Papa’s. My grandfather was a man of great wisdom and that’s becoming an increasingly rare commodity.

My Grandfather, like Chinee, was fiercely loyal and no one or nothing was more important than family.  If Chinee was here to lend voice to my assertion, he would agree that it was Papa who instilled in him that loyalty, whether it was an easy installation or hard-fought, I can’t say, but its truth cannot be denied.  Papa was not forthcoming about the early facts of his life. Actually, he was downright secretive.  As open as he was with his advice, love and guidance, he seldom divulged any of the experiences in his life that gave birth to his wisdom.  

He was immensely in love with and loved by his mother Jane, a full-blood American Indian.  He spoke proudly of her long, thick, black and straight hair that hung almost to her knees and how at a few times during his boyhood he had been pressed into the service of helping her to brush it at night.  He spoke nothing to me of his father other than to say that he was or had been a freed slave name Jordan, like the river.  One of the only other few facts that Papa shared with his children and some of his grandchildren was the reason he purposely shielded his past.   

While only in his late teens or early twenties, Papa had been accosted by two men, opposite of his racial persuasion, who thought to make sport of him.  They hurled at him horrific expletives and told him that it didn’t matter whether he called himself a damned Indian or Niggra, he had no business walking around free as if he was as good as they.  They sought to, in their limited diction, put him back into slavery where he belonged.  Their intent, according to Papa, was to make him their personal slave.  

When naturally Papa balked at their threats to return him to his “proper place”, they retaliated by placing a rope around his neck and were almost successful in their attempts to hang him until he freed himself, overpowered and killed them both. To my knowledge, Papa spoke no more than one or twice of this matter the whole of my life with him and probably not many more times than that during the whole of his. He steadfastly resisted any efforts to elaborate on the matter, not for fear of his safety but for ours. The less we knew, he reckoned, the less opportunity for us to speak on it by force or chance, thereby he protected us. Until the day he died at 87, he never told us anymore than that he had killed two who had tried to kill him. To that I say, “Yea Papa!”, because to have not done so would mean that I and hundreds of others of your progenies would not exist. However, that most unfortunate happenstance, created in him two lifelong unmovable stances; first, he would not allow anything tight to be worn about his neck. He refused any attempt or occasion which would have forced him to wear a necktie or forced him to close the top button on his shirt, much to the chagrin of his fellow deacons at church. Papa was Miami Vice cool almost before there was a Miami! He blazed his own trails! The second lifelong stance this incident created in Papa was the fact that he would tolerate no disrespect from anyone who sought to tell him where his place was in life. He allowed anyone a chance to be told something twice and shown once, after that…hmmm. He carried a doubled-barrel shotgun every time he left home, accompanied by a bandolier full of extra shells, in the unlikely event he would need to fire more than the two already locked and loaded barrels. I’ve never heard of anyone, Black or White who ever thought to challenge him. On the contrary, Papa was the only man of his Race and time of whom I had ever heard referred to as Mister by all who addressed him, who were not his relatives. Again, I say, “Yea Papa!”

Papa stood six feet five in stocking feet, in my mind. He was as strong as Hercules, in my mind, and was as tightly wound and dangerous as a coiled Rattler, a fact that does not merely abide in my mind! Papa was a hardworking, earnest living, straight talking, sailor cussing, horseback riding, joke loving, domino playing, wisdom sharing, female aesthete, bestest grandfather EVER.

I hope you will enjoy getting to know him through my eyes over the next few posts.  Not just him alone but also some of his most trusted friends.  I’ll attempt to tell a few of the heartwarming and entertaining conversations that took place between Papa and William Gatlin, (Mr. Bill /Pop-Pee), Gene Ridgeway (Con’ Gene) Hardy Shankle (Con’ Hardy) and Albert Watley (Mr. Orb).  I’m immensely proud to say that because I followed Papa almost everywhere he went and because these men were very often in his presence, each of them all 70 to 75 years my senior, allowed me within their circle without preamble.  (Con’ was a diminutive and colloquial form of the word Cousin used throughout the Southern United States).

Decades would have passed when I, considering some of their conversations, realized they had spoken “between the lines” or talked “over my head” when matters they considered too strong for my ears were discussed. How I still love those old men. How I value the lessons they taught me not so much by design but by example. Except for the place underneath Papa’s shirt during a Thunderstorm, no place felt more secure than in the present of those Giants of my childhood, with my Papa, Mr. Robert (Bob) Allen leading the pack.

See Ya Later, Chinee

I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, for many weeks to continue with the My Brother was My Keeper series. Initially, I blamed the delay on the holidays and in all truthfulness, that was partially correct. However, after my last post which involved my recollections of two families saying goodbye to their brothers, I find myself either facing my cowardice or my inability to write about losing My Brother.

With the understanding that I’ve laid completely bare ”some” of the most humiliating and painful memories of my life within this blog, I admit that I do not have the strength, fortitude or the bravery needed in which to detail the time leading up to and or including the death of My Brother.

I’d like to momentarily pause here and send heartfelt gratitude to the many members of the Bryant, King & Perkins families who took precious time to contact and tell me what the My Solder memoir meant to them. It was truly emotionally overwhelming to know that something I had written from my childhood had touched so many on such a visceral level, because it is that which a Writer hopes to achieve. Thank you all, for making my dream come true.

Throughout this 6 months long process, more than anything, I was hopeful that I would be successful in chronicling the absolute pure and untarnished love Chinee and I shared. Writing about our unique relationship was easy even though the end of each chapter found me weakened with tears and half way through another new box of Kleenex.

I can’t claim that I’ve come anywhere near cornering the market on loss, grief and pain but I’m pretty certain that I have or rather had cornered it on having the most totally involved, the most selfless and most loving brother of all time. From the beginning of my life to the end of his, we shared an intangible love. His love was bound on all sides with the teaching of life lessons. It was never just about football, or planting trees or any number of countless occurrences in our lives. It was always about him teaching me how to choose or providing me a path to follow. My Brother taught me unselfishness, he taught me stoicism, he taught me endurance, he taught me how to love unconditionally, he taught me laughter and at the end of his life he taught me that there is grace and dignity in dying bravely.

He trusted me with his legacy and because of the bit of him I’ve shared in this forum and what I’ve shared with my children, who knew him for a short time as the loving Uncle he couldn’t help but be; I hope I’ve succeeded in presenting him in a manner in which a smile will always accompany a thought of him. I could do no better for his legacy than that.

Although I am choosing not to continue with the My Brother series, it does not mean that Chinee will disappear from my writings, how could he when he is woven into every fiber of my being? But for now, he will take a step back as the focal point. But even this stepping back didn’t come without heavy concern. It caused me to wonder whether or not I was letting him down by prematurely ending his story. But as I have done many times when a difficult decision was needed, I closed my eyes and listened for his voice.

During the last few months of Chinee’s life that evil and depictable disease of cancer stripped him of the ability to walk without experiencing intolerable, nausea inducing pain. Clinically speaking, the cancer had metastasized from his lungs to his supporting bones causing osteolysis. The cancer riddled his bones with so many small holes whereby any pressure applied to a particular joint or bone created multiple fractures, in short, his bones were being pulverized. It also robbed him of his melodic, laughter-filled voice.

During one of my last hospital visits with Chinee, he’d refused to allow me to see just how much pain he was enduring. On a ruse, he’d asked me to go to the hospital’s cafeteria for a soft drink and as I was eager to do anything for his comfort or desire, I hurried away. He used the time I was absent to tell my husband the degree of which he was suffering. Even so, the next day as I visited with him alone, his need to relieve his bladder became urgent yet he refused to use the urinal placed at his bedside. That, in his mind, would have displayed a weakness that he didn’t want me to witness. In one of his last loving, caring and valiant acts to prove to me that I needn’t worry overly much, he denied himself a bit of comfort AGAIN, to allay my fears. By this time, his left shoulder and both ankles had been completely compromised by the cancer, even so, refusing my help, he lifted himself from his hospital bed and walked unaided to the restroom. It took his Doctor’s (who had made his way to My Brother’s room for rounds while Chinee was in the restroom), astounded expression for me to understand just what a feat of improbable, impossibility Chinee had undertaken. Man!!!!!!

I spoke to Chinee of my doubts of being able to exist in a world where he didn’t and in a high pitched whisper, all that cancer had left of his once booming voice, Chinee directed me that I needed to learn and learn quickly to live without him because his dying meant me living to tell his story in a way that he never could or would have. Without needing to give his statement any thought, I knew instinctively he could have never nor would he ever have told his story because he lived his life for others therefore, others would have to tell his story for him. So, in saying that, with a few minor changes I will again use the lines from a song that clearly told “our” story:

We’ve had our share of life’s ups and downs
But fate’s been kind, the downs have been few
I guess you could say that we’ve been lucky
Well, I guess you could say that it’s all because of you If anyone should ever write our life story
For whatever reason there might be
Oh, you’ll be there between each line of pain and glory
Cause you’re the best thing that ever happened to me
Oh, there have been times when times were hard
But always somehow we made it, we made it through
Cause for every moment that we’ve spent hurting
There was a moment that I spent, ah, just loving you If anyone should ever write our life story
For whatever reason there might be
Oh, you’ll be there between each line of pain and glory
Cause you’re the best thing that ever happened to me.

Chinee’s life was told by his smile which turned into laughter…and…there…was…nothing…he…loved…more …than…laughter. His smile was as big as East Texas timbers and his heart bigger than all of Texas combined. That would be what he’d want people to know about him. Much more beyond that would have received his perfectly pat answer when it came to people wanting more from him than he could give, “Eff’em!” With my eyes now wide opened, I’m remembering that he loved to leave’em smiling and he adored a surprise ending and because he wouldn’t have seen that one coming, I join my outrageous giggles with what I know would be his laughter. Please smile with me as I remember, My Brother.

I’m trying my best to leave’em smiling. Thanks for helping me Bro. I still love you & that smile! See Ya later Chinee.

My Soldier

My sincere intentions were to continue with the “My Brother” series this week but, as fate and life would designate, I instead found myself sitting in a chapel attending the farewell service of someone of whose family I lived directly across the street when I arrived in California. Our family connections have crisscrossed over the decades and the neighbors we were became the family we are. That simple reflection caused me to tumble back into the decades and brought to mind another memorial service almost 60 years past.

This recounting is of a shadowy but persistent memory which had followed me like a specter in a dream who always stood sentry but was forever just out of reach. From 1962 until July 2017 I battled with myself wondering whether I was chasing a dream or memory. It was truly as if all of the participants of this particular memory conspired with my dreams to keep me from forgetting. It had become so pervasive that I was often surprised when I would awake without having dreamed that same dream.

Fifty-five years of guarding an uncertain retrospection had taken its toll so, it was in July 2017 when I sought to find the truth of the matter, to find whether my memory was of a fact or just a hauntingly beautiful dream, No one had ever spoken of the event in my presence and although I didn’t doubt the details of my memory/dream, I wasn’t certain if the event had actually occurred or if it was a conglomeration of someone else’s spoken recollection that I had somehow adopted as a memory of my own. It was at the end this time period when a dear and precious cousin provided me the framework on which to hang one of the most beautiful tapestries, sewn together by my memory and which had fought ferociously against Time to prevent it from being ripped apart at the seams.

October 1962: Wiergate High School’s gymnasium seemed overwhelmingly large and quite literally filled to the rafters. There was a slight autumnal chill in the air, but most of it had more to do with the occasion than the weather. The bleachers were completely filled on both sides of the gymnasium and row after row of folded chairs had been patterned neatly across the highly waxed and polished basketball floor, where generally no one wearing anything other than Tennies or Basketball shoes were allowed.

I felt as though we were attending a funeral of a family member, but if so, it was no one of whom I knew personally, therefore the only pain I felt at the loss of the deceased was felt because of the pain I saw on the faces of those I did know. I recognized one person immediately as we entered the gymnasium and that person was the Head Cook in our school’s cafeteria, she was also my grandmother’s niece. As their eyes met, the pain on her face had reflected upon Mother’s face. In fact, every face in that great crowd had a solemnity which surpassed that which was shown upon the faces at other funerals I had attended. However, being only seven or so did not allow for much expertise in matters of obsequies.

I have absolutely no recall of the actual ceremony, i.e., what songs were sung, which scriptures were read, or what eulogy was offered, all of that to me, have been lost to modern-day antiquity. My memory seemed capable of reserving space only for the final viewing and for what came later. As the program portion of the funeral ended and as the mortuary attendants approached the flag draped casket, audible but quiet weeping spread like a wave from the front rows of seats to the back.

As best as I can remember, Mother and I had been seated a few rows further back than center. We stood and followed an usher’s direction when It was our row’s turn to fall in line behind the row immediately in back of ours and we marched a slow progression toward the final viewing of the decedent. Person after person shuffled along wordlessly, unashamedly wiping tears from their slightly bowed heads and it became more than apparent to this seven-year-old, that whoever occupied this coffin, was deeply loved.

Shockingly, I discovered there were a few people in attendance who showed no emotions at all! They wore looks of complete detachment and serious concentration. They stood tall, erect and wore amazingly impressive uniforms. I had become totally absorbed by their mode of dress and deportment. They were a master study in dignity and self-assuredness; they stood in sharp contrast to the people in line with slightly bowed heads. These men who stood with their heads held high and their shoulders squared had just planted fresh seeds of hero worship deep within my core. They, with their crisp, fresh pressed uniforms had more than my respect, they had me! There and then was born my infatuation of men in uniforms! It didn’t matter if it was Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine, Coast Guard or City Trash Collectors…sharply creased, starched and ironed uniforms were my new standards of manhood.

Because I was the shortest person in line, I couldn’t see what was taking place directly in front of us, but I was completely willing and content to keep staring at the handsome uniformed men standing at attention near the foot of the coffin to my right.

Approaching the funeral dais was usually a frightening, knees-knocking prospect for me, one that I would not have undertaken unless I was being pulled along or pushed ahead by firm adult hands. This time though, there was something propelling me which had nothing to do with guiding hands. This was different, curiosity had replaced my fear because there, just in front of me stood a sealed glass coffin. The heart-rending cries of anguish were all but banished from my hearing as I beheld something of which I had thought existed only in fairytale books, Snow White specifically. It was almost exactly as I had envisioned when my sister first read the story to me. The sparkling beauty of the casket contrasted achingly against the still, quiet form lying inside. Wildly rampant floods of emotions washed over me; I had so many questions I wanted to ask immediately, but I knew not to behave in any manner which would have drawn attention away from the family and upon myself. Mother would not have looked kindly at such a show of disrespect, so I closed my mouth and willed my mind to accept and hold onto each new occurrence.

I was fascinated by the scene now directly in front of me, I wanted so desperately to reach out and touch the glass box, to make sure that it was real and that it wouldn’t disappear as Snow White’s did when my sister closed her book. But again, two unmovable forces prevented me from touching the glass: the distance everyone was wordlessly warned to keep as we momentarily paused to pay our respect and the unyielding force of nature, I called Mother. Since I was not allowed to touch the glass my attention was turned to the person inside. A man, also in uniform, a white uniform. WHO WAS HE? I looked up at Mother hoping to maybe whisper my question to her, but I saw an unstaunched flow of tears and knew instinctively not to speak, so I tucked away my question for a better time, of which, as it happened, never arrived. As we followed the slow but orderly processional out of the gymnasium, I picked up snippets of conversations being held all around us but nothing that led to the identity of the soldier in the glass casket. I heard but did not see who had made a comment that the young man had been lost at sea. I quickly discounted that comment because how could he have been lost if he was lying just inside? But the words, “lost young man” made an impression upon me. I added those words to the list of other things I wanted to ask Mother later.

At the Shankleville Community Cemetery, some five miles or so away, the “Lost Young Man” was to be laid to rest. This answered one of my questions, he was indeed family because only family members were allowed to be buried there, at least that was the case at that time.

There seemed to be even more soldiers in attendance here than I’d seen at the school. Perhaps, they were all in the gymnasium and my height disadvantage had shuttered them from my view, but here now they all stood together. I counted 8 unmoving, unwavering and completely focused servicemen.

Mother and I had been in a latter position in the funeral procession from the school to the cemetery and therefore were among some of the last to enter. The graveside service had already begun, and Mother and I had necessarily stood near the back of the crowd. The incessant buzzing that attends a crowd was suddenly hushed when someone at the front of the crowd yelled a command. Although, I had been gratefully holding onto Mother’s hand since we exited the car in which we rode, at the sound of that command, I wiggled my fingers free from her grip and bolted toward the outermost edge of the crowd to my right! I knew there would be a price to pay later but I was compelled to find a spot from which I could see what was happening up front.

I reached a spot near the East facing fence and found that I had an unobstructed view of the action taking place. Just as I arrived, a second command of “Honor Guard, Attention” was given by a soldier standing slightly apart and to the left of the seven others and for the first time I noticed that they were not all wearing the same type of uniforms. I didn’t know what all the different uniforms represented but two of them matched the uniform worn by “the Lost Young Man,” Sailors, that much at least, I was certain. Despite the difference in their uniforms, they all exhibited the same deportment. At the utterance of the next command, “Stand by-Ready,” there was an in unison clicking of rifles, (no self-respecting Texan would call these weapons, guns). The next command given was “Ready” and was executed by each of the soldiers removing his weapon from the safety position. The “Aim” command had them bringing up the butt of their rifles to their shoulders so that the handgrip rested in the palm of their left hand and their right hands grasping the small of the stock with their fingers entering the trigger guard. My unguarded mind immediately noticed that they were all right-handed and wondered off point, as to whether a left-handed person would have been excluded from this particular ceremony.

My wayward thought was riveted back to what was happening when the next command given was “Fire!” all weapons were discharged in ear-splitting unison and they stood awaiting for the next command which followed almost instantly on the heels of the first order to Fire and then the final command to Fire! The last command to “Present Arms,” caused the group as one, to place their rifles with both hands vertically in front of their body, holding the muzzle upward and the trigger side facing forward.

The ceremony was stunningly poignant, and my mind captured and held unto every minuscule detail. I watched as one of them, the one who had given the commands, approached my Grandmother’s seated niece but was too far away to hear what was being said or what exactly was being done. I still didn’t know her connection to the “Lost Young Man.” I made my way back to Mother’s side and suddenly another command was issued, and it seemed that command was taken as the dismissal call for all who were in attendance.

Even though I had rejoined Mother, my attention was still riveted on the men in uniforms. They were the most gorgeous, perfect (in my limited experience) depiction of manhood I could have ever hoped to witness. If clothing made the man, these men were well-made indeed! As I stood drinking in all that was in front of me, staring openly and unapologetically from one serviceman to another, one of them walked toward Mother and I and STOPPED! He squatted down to my level and taking his still gloved hand, cupped my chin, lifted my face and told me how pretty he thought I was. I was struck completely speechless and hopelessly in love! No one had ever told me that I was pretty. I’d been told my shoes were pretty, my dress was pretty and aw hell, even that my sister was pretty – but never had I been told that I was. I didn’t know if I believed him or just adored him, whatever the case, he was intricately and forever linked to my soul, my heart and my memory and in that moment, he became “My Soldier.” He was also irrevocably linked to the “Lost Young Man.” After he stood upright again and left my immediate space, I tried to filter out all sounds except his voice, but I heard another soldier ask him where he was headed next and My Soldier answered, “D.C.” I had no idea where or what D.C. was but what I did now know, was that I wanted to go here too! In that moment I made a childish but sincere vow that one day I would go to wherever or whatever that D.C. was, and I would find My Soldier. My world which had expanded to include this soldier mere moments before had just as suddenly deflated as he walked away. I was crushed but yet, still hopeful.

Five short years later, my own mother would find rest in the same red clay as the “Lost Young Man.” No military honor guard saluted her passing and I was whisked almost 1800 miles away, in the opposite direction of the travels of My Soldier.

I had moved far away from the foundation of my memories and no longer lived amongst people who had shared my day to day memories and therefore could not help bolster or prevent my recollections from becoming milky and doubtful. After so many years, this particular memory was definitely headed toward the land of uncertainty and would have taken root and stayed there had it not been for the advent of Facebook and a Friend request from a distant yet direct family member.

It was an early afternoon in Mid-July in 2017 when the remnant of a recurring dream fought its way to the forefront of my consciousness. It was an especially slow Thursday afternoon so; I took advantage of the lag time and of Facebook and sent my Cousin a message similar to the following:

Hello Cousin…I hope you can help me because there is no one left to whom I can turn. I have a vivid memory of someone who I believe to be a relative of ours, yours and mine. A young man who was either killed or died at sea. My memory is that he was a sailor who drowned. I don’t know if he was a son, grandson or nephew to Cousin Elouise. I was very young, but Mother took me to the funeral which was held in the Gym at Wiergate High and I would swear but can’t be positive that he was buried in Shankleville. Can you please help me fill in the missing parts?

Her reply:

The young sailor’s name was Willie Lee Bryant.  Yes, my Grandmother’s Elouise Bryant’s son.  Your memory is perfect because the military funeral was held at Wiergate High School and he was in a glass casket.  He is buried in Shankleville next to my grandmother and grandfather.  He drowned while serving in the Navy at a very young age, trying to protect his ship.  What made you ask of him?  No one ever ask me about my mom’s brother.  I hope this helps you.  Love you Cousin.  Beverly.

What followed was a conversation that took place over several hours. No one, not even Beverly could have understood the momentousness of her confirmation. What had been an uneasy, uncertain echo was given new voice and meaning. What I had begun to suspect was simply a persistent nightmare had become a beautiful fulfilled recollection. I could not have been more grateful. Everything could have simply ended there and I would have been completely satisfied, but my dear cousin, Beverly J. King-Perkins, went one step further and there in front of me, on my laptop screen appeared a face that I had never known but recognized instantly. What I didn’t tell Beverly then but will reveal now, is just how very much my eldest grandson, (whose Father and Mom both served in the Navy), resembles her Uncle and my Cousin Willie.

Willie Lee Bryant
August 10, 1940
October 7, 1962

I was beyond excited that after decades of referring to him as such, I needed no longer refer to him as “the Lost Young Man.” Here now I will repeat something which has more meaning to me than it could have ever had otherwise and it is something of which I’d heard uttered many times, by our elders: “Blood will out! Blood will always out.”

Cousin Willie, it is so very lovely to have finally met you. Thank you for not allowing me to forget you or the circumstances that brought you to me. I have to admit to you Willie that I have not yet made it to D.C. nor have I ever again met “My Soldier,” but Wille, because I have aged well beyond the years you were allowed to age, because I have been blessed with recollections which have proven to be pure, innocent and detail accurate and mostly because I would now be considered grandmotherly to most young soldiers serving today, I am able to look at every young man in a military uniform and think of them all as “My Soldiers.” I adore each of them. Thank you for those precious gifts Cousin and now continue to rest easy, (I have, ever since your niece Beverly revealed your name to me. You no longer occupy my dreams but you are now and will remain a part of each one of my waking moments). Good night sweet Sailor, Good night. HOOYAH!!!!!!!

They Weren’t all Bad…Final

They Weren’t All Bad…Final

My beautiful new friend was true to her word.  Never did a four-hour span of time pass that she did not come by to check on me, accompany me to restroom breaks, or purchase my meals.  It bothered me that I had no way of repaying her.  

During one of our leisurely meals, she became a bit less reticent in her questions as to how I came to be on such a long train ride alone. The first couple of times she’d broached the subject she had abruptly switched topics when tears begin to fill my eyes. But I felt I owed her something and I trusted her unlike I’d trusted anyone beyond Chinee and Papa. The very least I could do was to share some of my story besides it had also been a very long time since anyone was interested in anything I had to say. It seemed we sat hour after hour with her asking questions and me answering and finally, me asking for her opinions to questions I’d been longing to ask for months. She didn’t have the answers I sought but it was a relief just to be able to share my thoughts with someone so solicitous.

To assume that I didn’t have my own curiosity as to how she had come to be aboard the train alone would be a misguided notion, but when I asked her, I noticed a subtle but definite change in her posture, a stiffening, almost defensive.  I also noticed her right hand switched to a clenched position from a relaxed position on the table.  I understood defensive postures all too well therefore I avoided asking her anything personal again.    

She couldn’t have been more than three to five years older than me, yet she seemed so mature, so aware and so very self-sufficient. She walked with her head held high in total defiance.   I decided that I wanted to be like her, independent and immune to judgmental examinations. She received plenty of those each time we entered the dining car, (at least I believed the glances were meant for her).  I assumed the women who leaned slightly away from her as we walked the aisle, did so because they were jealous of the looks their male companions gave her as we passed them.  I had become very astute in reading body language and assessing precarious situations.  We or she or I were constantly being observed and not in a kindly, caring way.  My new friend paid no attention to the women or the men nor did she seem to pay much attention to just how beautiful she was.  The cinnamon chocolate color of her skin combined with her soft dark wavy hair suggested strongly of a French, Spanish and African bloodline, Creole.  She had the softest Southern accent further suggesting that neither French, Spanish or an amalgam of either was her native language.

Early one afternoon, after my friend had escorted me back to the Sleeping Lady, boredom got the very best of me and I decided to display a little bravery and explore some of the cars alone.  Thus far, I had been no further than the dining car immediately ahead of us.   I knew that we were near the back of the train because of the advantage point we had as we stood on the platform before boarding the train in Beaumont.  Although desegregation was slowly creeping across the South, it had not yet found its way on much of the available public transportation. The Sunset had at least 30 cars and we were most likely in car number 14 or 13 counting from the front.  I had made several attempts to count the cars ahead of us as we rounded steep curves to the left but never reached the same number twice.  We had made several stops along the way, but I’d never left the train, I was much too afraid of being left behind or boarding the wrong car or much worse the wrong train!   

There wasn’t much of anything to see as I progressed forward beyond the dining car, just more of the same. People sitting, people sleeping, and every now and then a baby either crying or giggling. As I was about to enter the next car, a Porter I recognized, came through the same door toward me. He stood there and blocked my path but not in a threatening manner. “You’re a little way away from home aren’t you young lady?” I nodded and said, “Yes,” I got on in Beaumont.” He smiled indulgently and said, “Yes Ma’am, I remember where you got on, but I meant you’re a long way from your car.” “You’re not allowed to go any further forward from here.” I glanced back over my shoulder and realized that the car in which we stood was indeed just like all the others I’d walked through but realized for those few seconds as I’d stood there assessing the situation that the difference was that the people in this car, although Negroes, as we were called in the late ‘60’s, they wore a different style of dress. The kind of clothing that spoke of the better department stores and of dry-cleaned laundry and they wore shoes with taps on the soles to prevent excessive wear. They were, what I supposed would have been called, “well-off.” They had purchased tickets that did not allow them to share seats with the Whites, however, their fare did afford separation from the working-class Negroes who wore their 2nd hand, Sunday best having laundered them themselves with Oxydol and Faultless laundry starch. This was my first-time having exposure to true classism within a Race. I needed to think about this. I turned back to the Porter, thanked him and said goodbye. “I’ll be seeing you Ma’am,” he said showing me no less respect than if my own ticket allowed me passage in this car.

Since my trip forward had ended abruptly and because I was not quite ready to just sit and watch the scenery, I thought I’d backtrack and see what the cars behind mine offered.  As I walked through the car which held my seat, I glanced over at the Sleeping Lady and she was wide awake!   This was a first!  She looked up at me and did not seem to recognize me at all!  I returned the favor!  I walked through the first car and it held people who must have paid the same fare as the people in my car plus about four or five men in Army uniforms.   The car after that held as much cigarette smoke as it held soldiers and so did the car after that and the one after that and the next and the next!  There was another dining car not quite as nice as the one I had been visiting but the food smelled every bit as good and that was where I spotted my friend.  She was smiling and talking to a couple of the soldiers and I wasn’t sure if I should interrupt them to say hello or not.  I had just decided to make a hasty retreat when she spotted me and asked if I needed anything.  I shook my head and told her that I just wanted to see what else was on the train.  She told me she would be by later and to have dinner with me.  

At dinner that evening she seemed very pensive and not her normally talkative self. At every other meal, she had told me stories of different passengers, where they were going, their children, what type of work they did and when they planned or if they had planned to return to wherever they had come. I didn’t ask how she knew; I was just happy to be part of her conspiratorial gossip, because merely from the way she’d told me the stories, I could tell she hadn’t been informed of these things by the women who leaned away from her unintentional touch. Today though, instead of eating with her normal abandonment, she simply pulled the crust from her sandwich and picked at the filling inside. Each and every time we had been together, she would take my hand and slide folded bills into my hands. This time was no exception. Each time, I objected, but she would not listen to my protestations. At last count, my little handkerchief, tucked safely in my front pocket, held over one hundred dollars and the corners had become harder to pull and tie together! I ate quietly, wishing I knew how I could get her to talk to me and wondered what was making her so sad. As I was finishing my last bite of burger she said, “I swear I have never seen a person who loves hamburgers as much as you do.” “I guess they will always remind me of the last time I had lunch with my brother,” I answered sheepishly.

She reached over and handed me what felt like 3 or 4 bills. I asked her why she was doing this, but she asked me a question instead of answering mine. She asked, “how well do you know these sisters you going to stay with?” I told her that my eldest sister was as pretty as she was, and that I had been named for her. I told her that I knew her best because she would come home several times a year. Even though she was sixteen years older than me she didn’t act like other grownups, she was fun. “Humph, People are always fun when they on vacation but get them on their regular day and they can be just as sour as everybody else,” she retorted. “What about your other sister?” “I don’t know much about her. I think I’ve only seen her three times in my life. She got married really young, about my age and moved away. She hardly ever came back home.” “She acted as old as my Mother and treated me like I was one of her children instead of her sister.” “I sure hope you don’t have to stay with her,” she said sadder still and I wanted to ask her why she felt that way but was not really certain I wanted to know the answer. She grew quiet again and said to me, “Look, you gotta really listen to me now ok?” I nodded, suddenly unsure and afraid of what she was about to say. “You had a Mama and other family that loved you, so you got that to build on.” “Don’t let them other people who hurt you make you forget about the ones that loved you cause if you do that, you gonna let them and you down.” “There might come times in your life that might make you do some stuff that you don’t want to do but if it means the difference between living and dying then you do it but don’t live in it and don’t let it live in you, you hear me, Cher?” I blinked hard trying not to cry, I didn’t let any tears fall but dang they stung me in protest to being held onto too tightly. “We gonna be pulling into San Bernardino tomorrow and that’s where I get off, that’s where the lady you been sitting with is getting off too.” I wondered how she knew that since the Lady had not spoken to me since our first night aboard and to my knowledge had never spoken to my friend either. Then it struck me afresh what she’d just said, she’s leaving the train! Fear flooded me! “Where is San Bernardino?” I asked my voice shaking. She squeezed my hand and told me it was about 60 miles or so from Los Angeles and it would probably take about two hours to get to the station there. I didn’t want her to leave. I wanted to go with her, and I said as much. She told me that she had no family to go home to so, she pretty much rode the trains and would get off in whatever town suited her and moved on when she got bored. I asked her why she couldn’t stay onboard to Los Angeles since no one was waiting for her, but she said someone was waiting, they just weren’t family. It was strange how in just 3 days I had become so dependent upon her and so happy to be in her company. I also felt guilty for thinking she was supporting herself by pickpocketing. So, what if she did, she didn’t do it just for the sake of stealing, she had no one to take care of her either and besides that, she’d given me most of what she’d taken. I promised her I would always remember her. She told me not to bother remembering her, but to remember what she had told me. We ended the meal that evening with her telling me to never expect anyone to take care of me. That it didn’t matter that I was only thirteen, there was work I could do and be paid an honest wage for it. She told me to always keep train or bus fare home and to never, ever depend on anybody for nothing. Work for yourself even if you’re working for somebody! Don’t forget that! She told me she was going to say goodbye to me now because we would be pulling into San Bernardino early and she wouldn’t have time to say goodbye. We hugged each other and she did something that I will forever believe to be the most tender, intimate, non-sexual touch humans can share with one another. She took her hand and softly caressed my cheeks first with her palm then with the back of her hand; much the same way my mother always did just before she’d say goodnight to me. I still didn’t cry…I was done crying, but my broken heart found brand new ways and places in which to break.

I sat alone that next morning. It seemed most of the people in my car disembarked in San Bernardino. I irrationally associated a bitter distaste for San Bernardino and from then until now, I’ve never changed my opinion of that city. I didn’t want to sit in that seat alone, so I walked to the dining car and ordered coffee! Coffee!!! She had, so I did. While seated there I heard a woman sitting behind me tell another that she finally felt free to leave their husband’s side for a while since the little la putain had left the train. I had absolutely no idea as to what they were speaking and didn’t care. I was again facing an uncertain tomorrow. As I sat there sipping my overly sweet and heavily creamed coffee, I counted the money that was now barely contained inside my now dingy handkerchief. Inside there was three-hundred dollars and 32 cents! Boy, pickpocketing could sure be lucrative if done correctly, I supposed. Maybe that was what she had meant by doing something bad to live but to not keep doing it once you got on your feet. As the train pulled into Union Station in Los Angeles…somewhere in one of the cars behind me, someone once again began to play the song, Back up Train. How I wished it would.

I kept my promise to my friend albeit not quite as I would have preferred. Within two months of arriving in Los Angeles I was told by my eldest sister that I would be living with my second eldest sister and man oh man my train friend had been correct. It was not ideal to say the least, actually I could say that I had fallen from the frying pan into the fire. But this story is not about my sister, only in as much as I need to tell you that she insisted I would have to earn my keep. She had secured a babysitting job for me with a neighbor, watching her three children on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and she had applied for both a Social Security card and a job in my name at a local doughnut shop, about a three quarters of a mile from her home. I was warned not to reveal my true age to the owner of the shop and that I would have to walk to get to this job that offered me split shift hours from 3 am to 7:30 am and after school from 4pm to 8pm, Monday through Thursday. Second Eldest Sister further warned that I was not to let my schoolwork, or the upkeep of her home suffer because of my jobs. I suppose this would be a good time to mention that the upkeep of her home, which was a household of six, including me; she was also expecting a new baby in the Spring, but getting back to my duties, they included cooking, preparing her children school lunches, doing laundry—no automatic machines here in this “modern California home, just a wringer washer and a clothesline out back whereby I hung 8 loads of laundry per week in the good old California sunshine to dry. I was also to complete mopping, changing bed linen on 4 beds twice a week, which made me grateful that I slept on a sofa, dishes twice a day and in my spare time, ironing the freshly washed clothing for her family, (I was also truly grateful that I didn’t own many articles of clothing to add to my laundry duties) and anything else that would prevent me from sitting down for more than ten minutes and a page of school work at a time. How had my beautiful train friend known what was ahead for me? But I worked and I saved every dime I could after paying second eldest for my food and board, beyond what the State of California and Social Security paid her for offering shelter to her orphaned sister.

Regardless of the situation of which I found myself in this strange, new place, I still held to the fact that God never left my side and continued to put people into my life who had direct, positive impact upon my life choices.  The doughnut shop owner took me under her wing and taught me her business and gave me my first and detailed lessons in bookkeeping and accounting, in which I would eventually work professionally and retire from after more than 50 years.  Also, during that time at the doughnut shop, I found myself working side by side with a very lovely young woman of French dissent.  She was working her way across the country and had made it from Boston to Southern California and was taking odd jobs to earn enough money to finally settle in San Francisco. Coast to Coast is what she desired most, was her often spoken mantra.    She taught me a few rudimentary French phrases and we giggled a lot between serving up pastries and hundreds of cups of coffee per day.  She reminded me of my dear Train Friend, she made me forget how exhausted I was. 

One morning after she’d completed a sale to a particularly prickly and difficult customer, she’d walked away from the counter calling the woman a la putain under her breath! I asked her the meaning of the phrase and she said the politest description would be a prostitute or whore and she made reference to the New Orleans sex workers. My breath caught in my throat as I remembered the women behind me in the dining car on my last morning on the train. They had been speaking of my young friend. She had once told me that she normally went as far East as New Orleans, her home, and as far West as San Bernardino stopping anywhere along the way and in between. She was not a Pickpocket after all! She made her living working military transport trains! But I wasted no pity on her because she needed none, nor did I change my very high opinion of her. She earned a living the best she knew, hurting no one but herself and by doing so helped this lost young girl. She was my very own Rahab. Not for the first time, God used a prostitute to deliver one of His own and I’ll forever hold my train friend and the 2nd and 6th Biblical chapters of Joshua close to my heart. Despite her telling me not to bother remembering her, I’ve never forgotten her and never will.

My Lord, my Savior, and My Jehovah Jireh, please be attendant to the fervency of this, my prayer. Lord, whether my train friend of whom you so lovingly placed in my life  is still occupying space on this side of your glory or whether she has entered into your eternal presence, I thank you for the love and wisdom you showed to me by placing her and others in my life during the times I needed them most.  I thank you Lord for all your blessings and for what some would call trials.  Nothing you’ve allowed in my life has broken me because you have been my rod and strength.  Lord, if possible, I ask that you allow your obedient servants of times long ago, of whom will be known to me as my Train Friend and as Nurse Nice, until I meet them again in Paradise, to know that I’ve never forgotten their benevolence to me and their obedience to you. And Lord please, look into my heart and see that I’ve always acknowledged Your presence in their lives and mine.  It is in Your matchless name that I declare my humble gratefulness, Amen.