Throw Back Thursday – Dedicated to My Grandparents

Genrations

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!

Grandma - Georgia Moore

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. 

GT

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!

Waters

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!

CJ

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.

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Of Parenting, Fatherhood and Grace

It was June 5, 2010.  My son Christian had just graduated from East Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia.  The ceremony, held outdoors at the athletic field was hot, crowded and awesome.  It seemed like more than a thousand graduates.  Caps and gowns covered nearly the entire field.

 Soon after the festivities, I told my son Alex (one year younger than the older graduate), “Just think, this will be you next year.  And you will be wearing the white robe and sitting in the front where the honor students sit.”  Alex said, “Well dad I don’t know about that.”  I assured him that there would be no doubt. 

 Alex is my fourth of 5th biological children.  And it seemed as each one began to grow up, I became a better father and a better teacher.  I don’t know if I helped my two elder daughters at school much at all, other than to offer encouragement and help with a homework assignment or three.  Not that I wasn’t interested.  I went to parent teacher conferences, showed up at whatever activity they were doing, and followed up on all of their progress.  They were motivated young women in regards to their primary education. 

 Charelle

 Charelle, for instance, was always a “Five-Tool” type of player. (To borrow a sports analogy)  She was excellent in math, science, english, reading, art; you name it.  I recall checking on her progress with her teachers in high school.  One teacher in particular looked at me and said, “You’re Charelle’s father right?  Don’t bother wasting your time.  Nothing I can tell you about this girl.  She’s got it!”  In addition, she was tremendously popular too; something I never was in any level of schooling.

Chrystal, talented in her own right, I recall being especially great at art.  My biggest challenge with her was fighting over what items she created that I could keep for myself after the art exhibits.  I wanted them all.  She was also popular and was able to hang with literally any crowd and thrive.  Something I also could not do at her age.

Back to Christian, he was always a decent student.  But he seemed to thrive more on the creative.  He could get an A in any given class if he wanted to; if he was interested enough.  What was really impressive about the time of his graduation is that his journey was featured in a local newspaper detailing what it took for him to graduate overcoming many obstacles.  Oh and did I mention, he too was very popular among peers.

 Chrystal

By the time I had any clue of what I was doing to help with my kid’s education; since Charelle and Chrystal were already accomplished, my focus was on Alex and Christian during their latter school years.  While I wasn’t sharpest knife in the drawer and half of the work they did was way past my expertise, I focused on what I was good at.  Simplifying the process and helping them to see the big picture of life lessons and personal accountability.  These are what I would offer them: 

  • By the end of the first week of school, you should know exactly what it takes to get an A out of each class you take.  If you don’t know by the end of the first week, ask.

  • I honestly could give a damn about whether you make an A or a D.  The issue is to never ever cheat yourself.  Never be lazy or content.  If you got an A only because of your ability but did not maximize your efforts in the class, it doesn’t do anything for you in the long run.  But if you got a D and worked your ass off, you can be proud of it.  Only YOU know the difference.  And that’s the person who counts.  Just be excellent and let the results speak for themselves.  This is what being a leader and not a follower is all about.  Be a leader!

  • Some teachers are great, and some suck.  Those that suck still have the pen that you will be graded with.  That grade will follow you.  So you must learn to make the best of those classes as well, if for no other reason than to get your grade and get the hell out.  Teachers are like bosses and co-workers.  Even with the ones that suck, you still have to learn to work with them to be successful in life.

Christian

Thus were the abiding principals I would hammer home regardless of the situation or circumstance.  Every year we would have long conversations revolving around these somehow. I tried to capture their imaginations.  I wanted my sons to envision themselves as adult men in life, not just boys in school.  Most times I couldn’t tell what they thought of it.  And I didn’t spend too much time wondering.  I felt I did my job and gave them what I had.  Ultimately they had to decide for themselves.

Then it happened on May 30th 2011.  I’m back at East Paulding for Alex’s graduation.  The ceremony had just wrapped up. There were several hundred students, parents and family members walking on the field taking pictures and celebrating.  Alex seemed as pleased as I was to soak up this moment.  Then he pulled me to the side and offered this to old dad. 

“Hey!  Remember what you told me last year?  You said that I was going to wear the white robe, sit in the front and be an honors graduate.” 

“Yes I do remember,” I told him.

“You also said no matter what you do, always be excellent. I can’t believe I graduated with honors.  It was hard work man.  But I did.  I always listened to you, though I know most years I didn’t act like it.” 

We both laughed.

That moment for me was one of significance because it dawned on me not only how important it is for fathers to be in their children’s lives, but how important I was to my children.  That through all of the struggles, mistakes, and second guessing I’ve done as a man and a father, my presence and support in my children’s lives makes a difference.  Then I wondered what would have happened if I had not been there.  What if I never taught my sons to be leaders and not followers?  Wow, my job has been important.

I have four adult children from ages 18-24 and they are all in college.  I give them way more credit for making their own breaks and striving for their own goals than anything I’ve done for them.  I give credit to their mothers who were there day in and day out.  I’m very proud of them all.  With each of them as well as the ones still coming up, my focus is always to train them to be adults on their own making their own contributions.  I consider myself very blessed to be a part of their lives and being able to witness their transformations.

Alex

Why I Hate The Holidays

Ok, well maybe hate is too strong a word.  Let’s just say I haven’t always looked forward to the holidays anyway.  Specifically the trilogy we call Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Years, (TCN) that are slapped together the last two months of the year.  I am skeptical about several holidays anyway.  Most seem to have double meanings, in that its partial religious and partial if not mostly marketing.

Look at Easter for instance.   I grew up simultaneously thinking it was about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and at the same time for bunnies and egg hunting.  The same can be said for Christmas.  Don’t even get me started on that one.  Thanksgiving can’t get over with without stores opening up in anticipation of Black Friday and loads of shoppers coming to spend a lot of grip!

Know More About Aztec Culture Stereotypes and  Myths in America.

Speaking of Thanksgiving; It has its own set of issues as it inaccurately tells of a relationship between pilgrims and Native Americans.  They talk about Native Americans helping the Pilgrims, but they don’t tell of the massacre and land grab the Pilgrims put down on them in return.  With the amount of turkeys being sacrificed on one day, it shows how much it’s commercialized too. ****Side Note: Will someone please explain what this whole mess of the president pardoning a turkey is about?

I tend to get into holidays like Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day, or something like these.  I mean they are commercialized too in that they do have Memorial Day sales in department stores.  But they tend to have less.  Labor Day is pretty straight forward.  It celebrates the workers of the nation.  And what the heck, if one wants to enjoy some savings at JC Penny’s for their hard-earned dollars who can argue with that?

Martin Luther King Day is almost a joke!  As much as I think we should have it for I truly believe MLK is the greatest American ever produced, the talk of dreaming and speeches is sickening.   It’s more memorial and legend than it is substance.  Take the good with the bad I guess.  But we, (black folk who want to deify King as a messiah who could do no wrong – and white folk who wish to use the dream message while eliminating the more meatier pieces of his words that challenged American white supremacy and classism at its core therefore rendering King a toothless lion) have basterdized Kings legacy as far as I’m concerned.  But I digress.

Valentines Day is a funny one to me.  Flower prices soar to astronomical proportion leading up to February 14 as men scramble and come up off them dollars to buy those roses and chocolate.  If you have a woman and she’s into that stuff, you can forget it!  Come off that grip or cancel Xmas cause if she feels dissed and can’t brag to her friends about what you did, there won’t be any presents for you under her tree!  I’m just saying.  As my friend Jim Thornber once wrote me about this same point, “I know I know.  But I got to do what I got to do!”

I’m not a total Scrooge about this mind you.  But even as a little kid I had love/skepticism relationship when it comes to holidays.  When I was a child and thought that Jesus was born on December 25th, I honestly didn’t care as much about presents.  I didn’t turn down any either.  But I did make a point of saying, “Happy Birthday Jesus!” when I woke up that morning before running for the living room.  As I recall I think I just thought us kids had the benefit of getting some presents on the slide.   I didn’t believe in Santa Clause too long cause I couldn’t figure how dude could hit all the houses all around the world in one night.  Just couldn’t wrap my brain around that.  All possible illusions were put to rest when I heard my mother and then step father sneaking in the crib at 3:30 in the morning setting up my race track.  I wasn’t disappointed at all.  More so relieved that I wasn’t crazy.

Back in the day,  another reason why I grappled with some of our holidays, (specifically the TCN trilogy) is because these holidays interrupted my otherwise action packed distractions layered lifestyle of mine.  (When I used to work 2-3 jobs at a time as a much younger man)  Most of my adult life I have struggled at times with depression, anxiety and stress.  Back then I worked hard and I worked a lot.  Therefore I was able to busy myself meandering with the important and the mundane.  If it wasn’t one thing to do it was another.   I’m still busy now but with a better plan.  The distractions are no different though.  Going from one side of town to another working or head to the coffee shop to wind down or jot some thoughts or view Delonte West free-styling in a KFC drive-through about buying $50 worth of chicken after a weed burn can keep one’s mind off his troubles.

I remember one year-long ago.  I was driving on a Thanksgiving afternoon to pick something up from Walgreens.   As I drove down the street I noticed how everything in the world has seemed to stop.  Here it was broad daylight in the middle of a metropolitan city, during the week no less, and there were hardly any cars on the street.   My neighborhood looked like a ghost town.  Subconsciously I noticed the trees too.  There were no leaves.  Only traces of dead ones laying on the streets and along the curbs.  Nothing was growing outside.  Nature seemed to be hibernating and the chill of the air cause me to cover myself so that the cold couldn’t attack me as it was the rest of nature.  That’s when it hit me.  “Damn!”, I thought.  These are the thoughts that flowed through my mind as I assessed the situation.

I have no place to go.  No place to hide.

 I knew instinctively that I was not in a good place.  I felt lonely, and empty.  I had no distractions to keep me busy and occupied.  I never even realized how much I was hurting or missing.  But here it was face to face now.

Whatever you really feel, wherever you really are, whatever state you are in for real, is always revealed during this time of year.  It’s unavoidable.

So there I was.  I knew it.  Nothing I could do about it either.  And Monday couldn’t get here fast enough.

For the most part nowadays I tend to look at holidays as an opportunity for me to rest.  To take a load off and maybe sleep in a bit.  I do see redeeming qualities with some of these holidays as they do give us time to reflect from busy lives and have a reason to stop, look, and hopefully listen to others.   To realize that family is important and that there is a season of giving.  Traditions can be a good thing when looked at properly.  And these holiday traditions tend to give those fortunate opportunity to take stock of the many present blessings.  I too will do some holiday shopping.  And since I have ‘things’ in perspective I am free to give and be a blessing to loved ones without tripping off the commercialized contradictions.

But for the lonely, the depressed, the homeless, the destitute, this holiday season will once again be a not so gentle reminder of the bold and true reality of their lives.  Let’s remember them too!  As I know full and well, it can easily be us!

The Hidden, When Resentment Comes Rushing Back

It’s been a rough go for some members of my family lately. 

My sister is facing some health issues.  I have a young cousin who was visiting from Minnesota and caught double pneumonia, was medically sedated for a couple weeks and we are blessed to see her coming around again.  Visiting with her Tuesday night, she seemed like her normal playful self again.

Another cousin my age also caught pneumonia and has congestive heart failure.  We believe she will be ok too but she definitely needs to make some lifestyle changes that we hope she adheres to.

While visiting both cousins who are at the same hospital, I learned yet another cousin’s father died over the weekend.  I am not terribly close to this cousin and I never even met his father.  But what came rushing back to me when I heard the news after the initial feelings of, “I’m sorry to hear that.” was the memory of this cousin’s words after my own father died a little over 10 years ago.

When my dad passed on, this cousin said that he would not go to the funeral because, “I don’t want to go somewhere and hear a bunch of lies.” – for those who may not be clear, he felt that it would be one of those funerals where everyone said great things about a terrible guy. 

Well for one, my dad definitely had his faults as we all do but he was not a terrible guy.  Second, he was a minister and as such we didn’t even have a typical funeral that spent all of the service talking about how great he was.  To the contrary we celebrated his life and talked about his faith and how he had it when it counted most upon making the decision to have the heart surgery that would bring on his demise a week later.

This same cousin lost his mother to a horrible bout with lung cancer.  We all stuck together and supported he and his brother as well as my mom and other aunt.  When my turn came to grieve, he basically spit on my father’s memory and said some things I wonder if I will ever forget.

Now here is the thing.  It’s not like I think about this every day.  I can’t remember the last time I did think of it until I heard the news of his father.  I have seen the guy a few times since and most of the time it still didn’t cross my mind.  But the other night it did.  It stung again and I was resentful.  I wonder if I will ever let it go, since I didn’t know it was still there to begin with.

I’m not interested in holding this thing in my heart.  Perhaps I never really dealt with it.  Perhaps it’s my way of protecting myself by not allowing this person to be close to me and take a chance that he would say or do something else that would violate my confidence.   I don’t know.  I wish I did. 

In spite of my ill feelings,  I will call him to offer him my support. 

I guess the best thing for me is knowing that the hurt was still there.  And I will have a chance to explore myself and resolve it.