My Friends Have Enriched My Life
They Shared Their Lives With Me
When I was just a kid, my dad worked two jobs. One job was at a foundry and the other was at a cafe, where he was a cook. I was about three years old, when I remember going to the cafe to visit my pop. At this cafe, owned by his aunt, there were three people who I met and will always remember. One was Uncle Otis, an elderly Black man . My dad told me once that "Unk", the name he wished to be called, was about eighty years of age. Unk's job was to make the wonderful Brunswick stew that people from miles around came to buy. It was made from pork, chicken, corn, potatoes, and tomatoes and all put in a huge black pot and heated over coals . This was kept under a roof of tin as the stew cooked. Unk used wood that he kept having to add, as it was needed, and he stirred the stew with a long hickory stick. He had to stir the stew concoction for hours and it always seemed to turn out to be the best stew in the land. I spent many joyful hours talking to Uncle Otis, as he tended to that stew out side of my aunt's cafe. He used to tell me about the good old days and the times that he had growing up along the shores of the big muddy river that we all had to cross each day.
Another person that I met there was Ruth, one of the cooks and she always managed to have a piece of candy for me when I came by to visit. Ruth was bossy and at times she came across as gruff, but I saw through her tough exterior and knew the kind heart that she really had underneath. Ruth was always there hard at work, but took time to show me that she cared. Aunt Wiliie Lill was a beautiful black lady and a wonderful and kindhearted person that I remember there and was a waitress and helped prepare the great barbecue, that the place was so famous for having, along with its fabulous stew. Aunt Willie, as we called her, always took time to talk to my mamma about her kids and a little of every thing else. She was a very devout and religious person and a regular churchgoer. That cafe was the only place in town that a family of five could go and pay only about five dollars and get a great meal with fries and drinks, too. We always went there on Sunday and this was the only day that my hard working pop had off from work.
Aunt Willie, Ruth, and Unk, will always be a beautiful part in my memories, there in the little town in which I was brought up. It was the South and every thing moved a little slow in those days. Once I got to visit Aunt Willie's home and played with one of her grand kid, whose name was Sherman. He and I shared the same likes and dislikes and got along well back then. Perhaps the most poignant memory and how much joy we got to share with Aunt Willie was when she helped my mom out by babysitting us kids,my two sisters and I. for a few days, while mom was in the hospital. We were promised that if we were good kids, we would get to attend church with Aunt Willie that next Sunday, and we were all excited to have this chance. Our Mom made sure us kids went to church and our grandpa was a Baptist Minister.When we went to church that day, we really enjoyed the good old time religion and the sermon preached by their pastor in the Black Church that Sunday.
The most fun was the singing of spirituals and hymns, which everyone there new by heart. No one needed a hymnal book. We got to use hand fans and my little sisters were petted and made to feel very special, with compliments about their pretty dresses and curls. When I was old enough to drive , I got my first car, a 53 Buick with a big engine, and it was a gas guzzler. During the summer, I got a job as a newspaper delivery boy and drove on a route to deliver my papers. Here is when I met George. I was advised to drive over to the Black apartments near our home, one day and asked if any boys would like to make a little extra, helping out. I got a volunteer right away and George was my partner from the start. I would pick him up each day early and we would drive around delivering our papers. I noticed that George did not have a coat and it was getting chilly some early mornings. I had a football jacket with my only letter attached. I finally decided to give it to George. He was elated and took great pride in wearing his new jacket every where he went in the town. His friends were jealous of the jacket and all of them wanted one just like his. George actually made as much as I did after I paid for all the gas it took to drive my route. On Saturdays we got through with our route early and went fishing at the county lake. We shared a lot of good times back then.
When I was a teenager and had just graduated from high school, during the summer before I was to go off to college, I stayed at a local gas station with friends, and watched the ball games on the weekends. Two of the boys who worked there were Black, and my pal Gordon and I became close friends with Jerry and Fred. We exchanged tall tales, shared colas, and helped each other out with their automobile's repair at times. One day as we watched a ball game inside the station, we heard a loud explosion and felt extreme heat next to us. Suddenly the two boys who had been cleaning the grease racks there, burst into the room and were on fire. They screamed in pain and ran out the side door while their clothes were ablaze. My friend Gordon and I tackled the two teens and I took off my shirt and swabbed the fire, as it burned one of my friends. Gordon helped with the other teen, who was also one of our good friends at the station. The boys died that day from their burns and we felt devastated that we could not help them survive. They has used gasoline against the owner's wishes and a fire got started at the racks where they worked. My life never felt quite the same after this tragedy and I swore that one day I would give of myself to help others, and try to prevent such bad things from happening again. I felt that it had a great influence on my decision to become a teacher and work with kids in need of special help. I did become a teacher of special education and taught for more than twenty-five years in that field. I tried every way that I could to help the kids to which I had dedicated my life, and feel blessed that I was given this opportunity.
My first school, in which I was given to teach, was an all Black populated school, with all Black faculty, except for three others there . My first year as a teacher there was the one that I remember the most fondly, because I was treated like I was someone special. All the faculty and principals, as well as the guidance counselor, made me feel right at home. In more than twenty-four years to come, I can remember no greater treatment of me or respect for what I was doing with the kids that I taught there. I met many kids in need of extra help and did help several with needs outside of school. I had to take one to the doctor for a bad burn, another to go shopping to get shoes and food. I spent time visiting my kids in the hospital and later started a scout troop so that they could get important training that would help them later in their lives.
The Black people that I came to love and respect, taught me a little humility in my own life and that all people could get along well if given a chance. During the time in which I began my teaching there, there was a lot of severe racial unrest. The year was 1970 and a lot of harsh feelings were exchanged by Blacks and Whites in the community. Times would get better later on, but for several years there was a lot of unrest and protests in a very charged community of people who had rights just like everyone in this country. guaranteed under our constitution. I was blessed that I was welcomed with open arms and treated with great respect back then. I made several good friends among the faculty and will never forget there wonderful spirit of love and dedication there. Years later, I would meet and become friends with many Black professionals in my own field in education. I was from the South and what I was given there, and the opportunity to experience, was amazing and wonderful, full of the rich memories that give one the feeling that there is hope for the human race and all of its peoples.