October 22nd, 2005

Coffee Squirrel

Dear Pops

It was you who made me feel safe, not your son. The most placid of my prepubecent years were spent lounging in your lap waiting for your wife to finish dinner. Then I'd set the table and we'd eat. Oh, did we eat.

Weekends were also nice. My siblings were social and ran around with neighborhood kids. I went to my grandparents' place. I sat on your lap and tweezed your whiskers one by one. You didn't even wince most of the time. "Dinner is served!" Was our cue to high-tail it to the dining room. I was thin. I had no worries about fitting in. I read as many books as I could. I kept your face free of hair. I forced you to watch a bad TV movie about the life of John Lennon and you laughed your butt off when I explained that he probably let his hair grow because he was too lazy to cut it because he was busy watching Sean. And that I thought it was cute. I was eight. What did I know except I liked his music. But you thought it was funny that I even bothered trying to explain the actions of someone I hadn't met. You laughed about that. We laughed a lot. You bought me my first album "Let's Dance" by David Bowie. I was mostly a radio listener. I couldn't fathom spending a lot of money to "own" the music.

There were stories that didn't matter then, but make me wonder now. How come I'm not mellowing out as I get older? Why am I not satisfied with being where I am? You locked the bathroom door and beat your oldest son until your wife was kicking and screaming at the door. You had a shotgun for safety as one of the first black business owners in Evanston. You ran the risk of having some local whites vandalize your gas station. You weren't afraid, though. You were 6'7", you had some guns, you had some sons and you had all your kids to feed. There wasn't a question that you would run your business whether they liked it or not. I love that toughness. I never saw it, though. I was curled up in your lap like a cat and you, pleased, would pat my shoulders after inspecting my work in the mirror. Your chin was clean. I think that my sister occasionally wanted to be the one to pull your whiskers, but I was there more often and was an "expert".

When your wife died, I remember you talking about seeing "people in the light". You told us you weren't afraid of them. This made me sad. I knew you were going, too. Even at 19, you let me again sit on your lap; you allowed me to be comforted by your calmness. Now you were 6'5". I looked at the chandelier trying to see what you were seeing. I stared at your face. I traced, with my sight, the black irises of your eyes ringed by the blue of cataract. This was months before you died yourself. They still don't know exactly why you went. I should look up the death certificate and see what explanation they settled for.

There was so much silence on your side of the family. My mom's side had the talkers. They still do. You remember Miss Mary-- my mom's mom? She had been turned inward for a time. Her husband died, no reaction. They hadn't seen each other in years. He was shacked up with someone else. But they're Catholic and don't believe in divorce. tee, hee. I know: Crazy Catholics. You didn't believe in it, either, though. You loved your wife and weren't about to leave her. At any rate, Mary 'woke up' after J___ died and went to you. It's madness! She's watching less TV. She's actually *talking* to my mom and sister and cousins when they come to see her. They didn't think she was following anything anymore. But she knew when my brother died. And it registered. He was the one who would fix breakfast and quietly bring it into her room. He was the one who would, later in the day, bellow into the room: "Granny Mary, you eat yet?!" if anyone was going to get food. Your wife was Granny. She was Granny Mary. She goes by other names our cousins call her: Mom, grandmommy, Mary Pearl -- but to us she was Granny Mary. And now she is again.

I should be grateful for the silence my dad's side brought me. It allowed me to read a bit. I was allowed to think. I wasn't clever and didn't have to pretend to be. Of course, at my brother's funeral I found out one of the guys who lived down the block calls me "Little Condi" because I always had a book and was always looking thoughtful. I laughed my ass off. No. I'm not so smart and not so evil. I wish I did know a few languages, though. I explained that though I was quiet, most of the time I was just thinking of the theme songs to old TV shows. We both giggled and shouted: "The Brady Bumnch" at the top of our lungs.

I hope you and my brother are hunting and fishing and catching up. I got a message in a dream when your wife died. I never got anything from you. Are you two together? Were you just tired? Is J___ with you? Take care of him and tell him I'm sorry if I didn't do it right. He'll know what that means...
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