PHOTO: Christmas circa 1981 in New Kensington, PA (suburb of Pittsburgh) I was 14, to my left was my father Otis McCaleb, (R.I.P.) Below L-R Grandfather Leo “The Lion” Moore, Grandmother Georgia Moore, (R.I.P) and my sister Darcel (McCaleb) Tyson.
This was the last time I saw my grandmother alive. Still breaks my heart that I couldn’t be present to help lay her to rest. Grandma was a strong willed woman who loved cooking and Falstaff Beer. When my sister and I visited her every summer, she cooked every single night except Friday. On Friday, it was ‘Mustgo.’ I used to ask, “Grandma, whats Mustgo?” She’d yell, ‘Whatever didn’t go yesterday, MUSTGO today! It took me years to figure what that meant because she phrased ‘MUST GO’ as one word! She rocked a gold cap on her upper tooth, smoked and drank on the weekend listening to The Bucs (Pirates Baseball) on KDKA radio.
Grandma never missed a Sunday Service either. Deeply religious and equally superstitious, she would never let me split a pole when she and I often walked to the ‘5 and 10 Store,’ downtown. (Yea the 5 & dime she called it. Used used to buy me those pajamas with the feet in them. Loved those things.) But I digress: She would never ever allow a female to be the first person to walk through the front door after the New Year. She said that was bad luck! As New Years struck the year pictured above, I had the pleasure of walking out the back door and around to the front to ensure the year wouldn’t be doomed towards destruction! The night of January 1st however, I thought the opposite was going to happen after Dan Marino thew that 35 yard touchdown pass to John Brown to beat Herschel Walker and Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. I jumped with joy thrusting my fist in the air shattering a bulb from her prized chandelier!
As far as discipline goes, she was the bad cop! And she did it well too! No matter what I’d try to get away with when she wasn’t there, she always, and I mean always found out about it. She worked at a nursing home by day. I wasn’t allowed to go outside or have company over till she got home from work. But my girlfriend Vonda lived next door. As a matter of fact, we each lived in a brick double-connected 3 bedroom townhome that her grandmother owned. Her grandma, Lucille Brooks lived at 490 McCargo St. Our side of the building was 488. Our families were literally close like family, not just neighbors. Anyway, I would check, check, double-check all of the windows and peek around the doors, give the all clear signal and my girlfriend would bolt form 490 through my back patio door.
Sure enough, at 4:15 when grandma walked in the door, she’d come home and be like, “Christopher Keith?!! (I knew I was in trouble when she started using my government) “Didn’t I tell you not to have that girl over here? Yes I did… and yes she was! You had her over here from from 11:30 to 2!” I’d try… “But grandma, we was just watching game shows. Like The Price is Right, and the $20,000 Pyramid!” She’s come back, “The price is right for me to beat yo ass with a pyramid!” I’d think to myself, “Now how in the hell?” I swear I think that nursing home thing was a front. She had to be NSA! I mean, just look at her picture above. Does this woman look like a joke to you?
One of the reasons I love old people today is because of my granddaddy. (who we called Leo as kids) After serving in the Korean War he was a race car driver in his hometown of Meridian Mississippi! When I was a shorty, before he got into buying luxury cars, he had a bright red 1970 Ford Torino stock racer that was his everyday coup. It still had all the racing gages and stuff in it too. (Like some Fast and Furious stuff!) And yes he drove it around town like he was his name was Wendell Scott.
During the week, Granddaddy was straight laced to the bone because it was a work night. In the evenings, he’d come home, read his newspaper, eat dinner, watch Gunsmoke and Bonanza, calling it a night promptly at 9pm. He wasn’t mean, but you couldn’t get more than two sentences out of him at a time. He was just that locked in. Now come Friday night? That was another story. It was like a metamorphosis.
If you’ve ever seen the movie A Soldier’s Story, two of the characters were at extreme odds against one another. Sargent Waters, (the upwardly bound Negro looking to forge a new way for Southern Blacks through discipline, becoming Eurocentrically bourgeois, and less backwoods colored) vs. CJ Memphis (the good ole simple country boy who loved to sing, dance, and entertain people. CJ loved everybody. And everybody loved CJ, except Waters). My grandfather was Sargent Waters during the week. But instantly transformed to CJ Memphis from the moment he clocked out Friday night through Sunday before going to bed.
He’d sit me on his lap and sing songs to me;
“Goodbye Joe, you gotta go, meo-myo! Son of a gun we gonna have fun on the bayo!” or “Imma dance with the girl with the hold in her stockings and her knees keep a rocking!”
I mean he was the funnest dude in the world!
He took me with him on his many trips to the local bars and taverns. He would say, “Come on grandson. I’m going to get a shot!” We’d roll and in those days you could walk an 8 or 9 year old right up to the spot. (Always in the day time of course) He would get his ‘shots’ and I would listen as the old men told stories while laughing with one another…which I just LOVED! I’d look at their faces and as far as I was concerned, they could have been from the 1800s. Their faces held such distinct characteristics with the various shades and wrinkles. I pretty much thought they knew EVERYTHING! Add to that the fact that these men of distinction always treated me with such high regard and respect. They’d talk to me to see how if and how I’d speak back. Did I smile, was I unafraid, yet respectful? Saying things like, “Oh your grandson is smaaaart!” or He gone be something…(looking at me) aren’t you young man?” ““Yes sir!” We’d bar hop for several hours doing the same thing…. every weekend!
And don’t let it be a week where I had to go to the barbershop. That meant an excuse to stay out a couple more hours long way past the time it took to actually cut my hair. Which meant more bars and taverns! The guys in the barbershops told awesome stories themselves. They’d pat me on the head, tell me to keep my grades up and be something!
Of course when we’d get home and granddaddy was lit up like a Christmas tree, she would give him all he wanted! “Leo you old crazy fool! Drunk ass! Git yo hands off me! I don’t want no kiss!” Grandad would say something like, “Now Georgia stop all that damn fussing at me! I’m grown! Fix me some dinner!”
This was standard operating procedure every weekend and all summer long! And it was the best of times!
Grandma died in 1984 after doing some Thanksgiving grocery shopping. She collapsed at the local Food Mart while waiting on a cab. She never drove a car. My grandfather was at work. Oh do I miss her till this day. She never got to see me as an adult, or to see any of my own children.
Granddaddy has since remarried, and has long retired as an electrical engineer from ALCOA Steel. His wife Judy, who is a lovely woman, is an AME Minister in Pittsburgh.