Remembering Mr. Bean

grandfathers photoMr. Bean was my grandfather, but I called him “Daddy.”

His name was Willie White, but I hardly ever heard anyone call him by that name. Instead, my grandmother and his friends called him, “Bean.”
He was “Uncle Bean” to his nieces and nephews; He was “Mr. Bean” to unrelated younger folks.
His big brother, my Uncle Walter, who was a couple of years older, called him, Son.
And his children and grandchildren, we all called him, Daddy.
By the time I came along, my grandfather was nearing retirement. He’d worked with his brother as a logger for years, but health problems were forcing him into retirement. What         I mostly remember are the years after he retired.
When my grandfather could no longer work as a logger, he became an entrepreneur.
He grunted earthworms and sold them as fishing baits.
He raised rabbits then sold them.
He collected aluminum and scrap metal then sold it.
He even put a vending machine on our front porch and sold sodas.
My grandfather did what he had to do to take care of his family.
Becoming an entrepreneur was an easy decision for my grandfather. After he retired, he quickly realized he had everything he needed to “sit and watch” as he made money.
He had a light brown Chevy truck.
He had a big yard.
A front porch.
And, he had an able-body workforce of children and grandchildren, who were already paid in shelter, food, clothing, and a lot of love.
For his fishing bait business, we would load up on the back of his truck with our wooden stakes and iron bars then head out to the woods, where my grandfather spent the day watching us grunt baits. I always stayed near my grandfather, who loved using snakes for target practice. When we got home, we became sales clerks, counting out fishing baits to customers, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning.
For his rabbit business, my grandfather bought several rabbits, sat in a chair and instructed us on how to build rabbit cages, and then waited. And not that long.
For his aluminum and metal collection business, he loaded us up on the back of his truck and we road to all of his established collection sites. When we got home, we processed and bagged the metal then packed the bags on the back of his truck for shipment to the recycling center.
Selling sodas didn’t start out as a business venture. Initially, my grandfather’s plan was to stop us from spending every quarter we got our hands on buying RC and Nehi sodas from Mrs. Lillie down the street. After he put the vending machine on the front porch, he quickly realized that his household members weren’t the only ones buying drinks from the machine. All times of day and night, we would hear people walking up on the front porch to buy drinks from the machine.
My grandfather was also a wise man.
He knew that all work and no play does not make for good children. So, when it was time to clock out, he let us play. And play we did.
On July 3, 1976, Daddy closed shop.
I was 11.

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The Handwritten Letter in the Mailbox

mailbox photo How long has it been since you opened the mailbox and saw a handwritten letter from a family member, friend, or someone you used to know?

It seems the art of writing letters has disappeared. And oh how I miss it!

Rushing to the mailbox and finding a letter from an out-of-town relative, one of the 4-H friends I had scattered across the country, or a local friend who had moved away, was the highlight of many of my childhood days.

My grandmother was a letter writer, so there was always stationery, pens, envelopes, and a book of postage stamps at our house. Because my grandmother loved writing letters, she loved nice stationery. Even if the stationery didn’t have a pretty design or pretty color, if it was plain, then it had to be on fancy paper.

The most anticipated letters, the ones we waited for our grandmother to receive and then read to us, were the ones from her mother.

My brothers, cousins, and I were entranced by our great-grandmother for a number of reasons.

She wasn’t a medical doctor, but her title was Dr. Berthenia Horne, which was clearly stated on the pre-printed return address label.

She was part of the National Baptist Convention, so she traveled the world through her Christian ministry and mailed us pictures from nearly everywhere she went. One of my all-time favorite pictures is a picture of her kneeling at the monumental site of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. I still have that picture and I pull it out for display every Christmas season.

As soon as I was old enough to write, my grandmother started including letters I wrote in the letters she wrote to her mother. As I grew older, I began writing and mailing my own letters, which started a letter-writing correspondence that lasted until my great-grandmother’s death in 1998.

I have this same type of long-time correspondence via handwritten letters with a few others.

My brother, Tony, and I have written back and forth since I first left home for college in August 1982. Our correspondence via letters continues to this day.

My brother, Ken, wasn’t too big on writing letters, so I still have the one letter that I can remember him writing me.

I also have a letter my uncle, Archie Thomas, wrote me when he was doing a tour of Iraq during Desert Storm in 1991. I was living in Detroit at the time, and my grandmother had requested that everyone in the family write my uncle. So, I did. I was overjoyed when I received his handwritten response.

The number of handwritten letters I get in the mail has the decreased over the years. This year, I’ve only received two, and both were from my brother, Tony.

Email, social media, and cell phones have all contributed to the decline in writing letters. Now, instead of grabbing a piece of paper, a pen, an envelope, and a stamp, people just log onto their electronic device, press a few keys, and the message is sent and received in a matter of seconds.
I don’t have a problem with technology. I use it every day, nearly all day because it’s faster and more convenient.
But ten years from now, when reminiscing about family members and old friends, nothing compares to being able to hold a letter that they took the time to write, place in an envelope, and mail to you. It may have taken a few days to receive it, but the memory of having received it, will last forever.     

What I Hear Them Saying

black-hoodies

Look at him.

Young, black, and going nowhere.

Stop… and really look at him.

He thinks that he is invisible, that nobody really sees him.

But look again.

There is an angry man inside of him, and maybe the angry man is to blame for the violence that makes society see him as a menace instead of a man.

If you look, really look, you’ll see that his anger is inherent. He began life as the son of an angry, broken black man or the son of a black man who was missing from his life. Poverty and hopelessness made him angrier. And then racism and discrimination turned anger into rage.

Now, look at him.

Who do you see? What do you see?

Do you see him? Do you see the violence, the guns, and the bloodshed? Or could it be that in your eyes, black males and violence are synonymous – one and the same?

He sees himself through your eyes. So, the answers to those questions – who and what you see – have defined who he is and how he sees himself.

He knows who he is. He is a son. A brother. A friend. He is uniquely different. A promise yet to be fulfilled. But, that is not who he sees.

He knows the reality of life for young, black men like him is incarceration and early death, so he sees himself the way you see him – as a statistic.

He knows that murder is the number one cause of death for young black men between the ages of 15 and 34. In fact, young, black males are ten times more likely to die by homicide than white males in the same age group.

He knows that nearly 40 percent of all African Americans who died between the ages of 15 and 34 were victims of homicide, which makes him wonder how society would view this statistic if 40 percent of all white Americans who died between the ages of 15 and 34 were murdered.

He knows that one in three black men can expect to go to prison in his lifetime and that African-Americans are incarcerated at a rate six times higher than white Americans. He knows the statistics and what they mean. Young, black men are targets.

He has not learned to see himself as someone with a future. He has not learned to dream. Nor live.

Look at him.

Who do you see now?

There is an angry man inside him.

Look at him.

This young, black man wants to beat the statistics. He wants to live. So, he’s searching for a way to calm the angry man inside him – searching for a way to get rid of the inherent anger and the anger borne from years of living in a world that does not see him.

But, because he lives in a society where young, black men are targets, he’s always ready. Strapped and waiting for another angry man to ignite the gunfire.