Sandlot Football in Oak Cliff: Recruited

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Ricky Miller: The Original Black Quarterback

When I was seven some boys spotted me and my brother, Steve, leaping onto the huge planters that fronted our Church. It was right before Baptist Training Union and we were avoiding going in until the last minute. The planters were beige stone structures that graduated in height from street level to the top of a stack of steps at the entrance. We leapt high and laughed hard when the other one fell on his landing. Our Buster Brown shoes were scuffed green and chalk white from the shrubbery and brick. Behind us the boys huddled on the Jacobs’ front facing yard and watched silently. At some point one of the boys; a tall, dark-skinned, muscular boy with long arms and huge hands yelled out, “Hey!”

I was landing bad and stumbled sideways with a big, falling forward motion when he had yelled. Looking toward his shout I saw a football slicing the distance and zeroing in on my face at the very spot where I didn’t know I was landing. I caught the ball with a fanatical squeeze and slap of my hands together and rolled forward onto the walkway. The boys across the street laughed and pointed and shook their surprised mouths closed with clasped hands and grass-staining rolls. It was the first time that I had EVER caught a football. The yelling boy smiled big and held up his hands in the same catching motion, expecting back the football. I walked to the edge of the street, pushing my torn shirt back in place against my road rash belly, and flung the ball sideways in baseball fashion. More guffaws.

My older sister came to the entrance and shouted, “Get inside“. Across the street the tall boy picked the spinning football off the sidewalk and jacked back his head in a familiar anti-nod. His close cut hairline was pushed back on his slender, black forehead.  As I turned and took the first step, he licked the tips of his fingers with a huge, dark pink tongue before gripping the leather ball and tucking it under an arm. Another of the boys waved as they began to stand. At BTU, Peter left the boat and walked, briefly on water.

Later that week my Stepfather called me and Steve out of our room and to the front porch. In the yard were the gang of boys with the tall boy spinning a football in his huge palm. “Go ahead“, my Stepfather prodded, “You can ask ’em yo’self, son.” The boy said, “Uh, my name is Ricky Miller. Ya’ll wanna come up to the high-line field and play some football?” My Stepfather turned back inside saying over his shoulder, “Get back t’the house before I hafta light the porch.” Me and Steve followed the boys to the field at the top of the Morrell Street.

The boys introduced themselves as we walked and most were brothers: the Mcpherson boys were Ricky Lane, Larry and Michael; Keith Wayne Jernigan and Chili-Wayne Epperson were singles; the Taylor boys were Mickey, Gilbert and lil Keith. The big boy was Ricky Miller and his younger brother was Clifton.

Once at the field Ricky Miller showed me how to hold and throw the football, then sent me trotting down the field to catch the ball some more. He quickly discovered two things: I could run faster than most and had no idea what I was doing otherwise. He took me aside and drew jagged lines in the dirt that I was supposed to follow. He promised me that the football would be thrown at the area marked with an “X” and that I was supposed to catch it there. I ran the zigzags faster than the “Safety” boys who tried to keep me from doing it. Ricky Miller yelled a lot and the ball zipped through the air and landed on the various imaginary “X” marks.

Walking us back home Ricky Miller asked, “Don’t ch’all watch the Dallas Cowboys games on Sunday?” We both replied, “Sometimes, before we go back to BTU, but Mr. Howard yells and cusses too much at the t.v., so Mama says to play outside.”

Do y’all know Craig Morton?”, Ricky Miller tried again. ” How ’bout Walt Garrison? Bob Lilly? Don Meredith? Lee Roy Jordan? Y’all never heard of Bullet Bob Hayes or Pettis Norman, either?”. Before I could lie about knowing these names, Ricky Miller said, “Try to stay inside and watch the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday”. Then, without my asking, he handed me his football saying, “Throw it to each other and bring it back up to the field with you next time”.

We were half a block away from the house and Mr. Howard stood watching for us from the screened in porch. Morrell Street was leaning into the early grays of evening, but everything around us was suddenly brand new, imaginary zigzag patterns and “X’s”. Steve took off and ran across Ms. Palmer’s front yard yelling for the football. I threw it like Ricky Miller had been showing me. The worn, brown leather ball rose in the air and wobbled like a shot duck before dying ten feet away and bouncing to a stop.

Steve ran back  a few feet to get it. As he chucked the ball back, a little less dying duck style to me, the bulb from our screened in porch sprang to an amazingly brighter life.

Jas. Mardis is an Award winning Poet, Writer and Art Quilter. He has been awarded the Push Cart Prize for Poetry and is a 2014 Inductee to the Texas Literary Hall of Fame.

Photo Credit: Library of Congress Photo collection Farm Security Administration collection

Jeffie and the Itchy Penny: Don’t Try This …Don’t

I grew up in Oak Cliff, Dallas, Texas,  just up the hill from the Jack In the Box on Corinth road and down the block from Greater Mt. Pleasant Missionary imageBaptist Church. Going a little further would land you at the Dallas Zoo or, in the other direction, the entrance to the legendary Dallas Sportatorium. No matter which direction we took back in the day we were guaranteed an adventure.

For my brother, Little S.L., and me there was nobody who took an adventure further than Jeffie Caldwell. Most of the time we walked wherever we wanted to go, so when we finally did get a bike Me, Little S.L. and Jeffie took turns riding and walking alongside it on our journeys.

Most days started with a yell across the neighborhood to find out what was going on for the day. Jeffie was always out before us and he stayed away from home longer and later than we were allowed. The next mornings would be spent sharing fried egg and Spam sandwiches while Jeffie told us what he’d discovered. We sat spellbound on flattened basketballs in the shade of our garage and apple-pear tree as he scared us with his escapes and unbelievable sightings. We learned to tell if he was making stuff up because Jeffie would pick a boring part and start poking a stick at the yellow jacket nest on the underside of the garage roof line. The hornets would swarm, we’d scream, swat, dodge and Jeffie would disappear.

One day there was no response to our yells. Me and Little S.L. went looking and eventually found him down the hill in front of the Jack in the Box. He was sitting on the curb, staring at two, white steel pennies on the pavement between his feet. Every so often he would scratch his unusually dirty palms, then rub them hard against his equally dirty handed down jeans.

“Hey, Jeffie”, we called out to him but he never took his gaze off those pennies. “What’s happening, Jeffie?” also went unanswered and it took a few minutes before he noticed that we had been standing there. Jeffie’s eyes were big, but he kept them closed to slits most of the time because he needed glasses. When he looked up at us his eyes were bugged, bloodshot and a little glassy. He called on me first. “Hey, Buggy, uh, can you do me a solid, man?” Without waiting for my answer Jeffie stepped slowly away from the shiny coins and asked, “Uh, can you pick up dem pennies for me, right quick?”

Little S.L. stepped in front of me and picked up the pennies, but instantly dropped them and yanked his hand away to scratch against his pants. He swore–“SHIT. DAMN”.  Jeffie didn’t say anything. He looked over at me and asked again, “Uh, hey, Buggy Man…can you pick up ‘dem pennies?” Little S.L. kicked at the pennies and said, “There’s something on the back of the pennies that stung my hand, Jr.”

We just stood there for a minute or two or longer, really deciding what to do next. I knew that Little S.L. would never swear in public and certainly not in front of the Jack-in-the-Box. I also knew that Jeffie could come up with some pretty “different discoveries” and didn’t want to pick up pennies that had been dipped in some kind of liquid. “Uh, Jeffie, where you been all morning?” was how I avoided the whole thing…for a minute. “Hey, Man…you know….just walking around and looking around for stuff…you know.” Little S.L. broke in quickly, “Where was you walking when you got dem Burning Pennies, Jeffie?” “I ain’t got no BURNING NOTHING…They Itching Pennies, Steve!”

Ten seconds later, with the pennies flying across the Jack-in-the-Box covered eating area. I agreed with Jeffie. As soon as I reached for the coins a string of pressure covered the tips of my fingers and thumb. Once I grasped the coins a quick, itch-burn-biting sensation came over my hand. I swore…in front of the Jack-in-the-Box.

That’s when the White Manager opened the side door and came out to run us off. Jeffie, showing us in real-time one of his “famous escapes” scooted over to the spot where the coins had settled and spoke up, “Hey Mister, we’re just practicing a magic trick, wanna see it?’ The Manager stopped and laughed at him, “What kind of magic trick has two white pennies thrown in the air for no reason, Jeffie?” (That’s why you didn’t cuss in front of the Jack-in-the-Box) “It’ll cost you two tacos to find out”, Jeffie recovered and the Manager lifted an eye brow and put his hand on his hip. Jeffie looked at the pennies then back at the man and added, “We only get the tacos if you can’t figure out the trick! Okay? Oh, and you don’t tell Rev. Caldwell that we been cussing next time he’s down here.” “Deal” the man agreed and went back inside for the tacos. 

When the Manager returned there were two neighborhood boys-workers with him. “Okay, show us the trick”

Jeffie made a big show of waving his hands over the pennies and muttering magic words we knew from comic books, but at the end he said, “The Witche’s Itches to anybody who touches her coins!” Then, to our surprise he picked up the pennies and placed them on one of the round metal table tops. “Now, if the trick works then the magic spell that I just put on the pennies will make your hands itch like crazy when you touch them…go ahead and see it…PICK UP THE TACOS..PENNIES!” Everybody laughed, but one of the boys reached out for the coins. He never made it. He snatched back his hand and looked oddly at Jeffie.

The Manager tried next  and quickly dropped the coins and scratched madly at his palms before turning to a smirking Jeffie, who had already reached into the bag for his taco. “Boy”, the Manager whistled out, “What in the world is Rev Caldwell teaching you boys”. Then, they returned to the restaurant and said to get out of the customer seating area.

Jeffie handed us the remaining taco to split and used the paper bag to scoop up the pennies. He rolled the bag into a tight wad and dropped it in the waste can beside the building.

Jeffie was stone cold quiet at our questions about the pennies and we could see him looking around for a wasp nest to whack, so we put him in the middle and kept walking. Stopping at his sidewalk, we waited for his answer. Jeffie told us that he had been in an alley looking for cans and bottles to sell when he saw a White lady burying something behind her garage. He waited until she was finished and back inside before digging it up and, instead of jewelry or gold, he found her cat in a shoe box. The cat had those pennies Scotch taped to his dead eyes. Jeffie had made it all the way to that seating area before figuring out what was itching him so bad.

Finally, when Rev. Caldwell came to the screen and barked out, “Jeffie, was you boy cussin’ down at the Jack-in-the-Box?’ we knew it was time to run!

Ricky Miller: The Original Oak Cliff Black Quarterback

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A blog series: Part 1 

Ricky Miller: The Original Black Quarterback

When I was seven some boys spotted me and my brother, Steve, leaping onto the huge planters that fronted our Church. It was right before Baptist Training Union and we were avoiding going in until the last minute. The planters were beige stone structures that graduated in height from street level to the top of a stack of steps at the entrance. We leapt high and laughed hard when the other one fell on his landing. Our Buster Brown shoes were scuffed green and chalk white from the shrubbery and brick. Behind us the boys huddled on the Jacobs’ front facing yard and watched silently. At some point one of the boys; a tall, dark-skinned, muscular boy with long arms and huge hands yelled out, “Hey!”

I was landing bad and stumbled sideways with a big, falling forward motion when he had yelled. Looking toward his shout I saw a football slicing the distance and zeroing in on my face at the very spot where I didn’t know I was landing. I caught the ball with a fanatical squeeze and slap of my hands together and rolled forward onto the walkway. The boys across the street laughed and pointed and shook their surprised mouths closed with clasped hands and grass-staining rolls. It was the first time that I had EVER caught a football. The yelling boy smiled big and held up his hands in the same catching motion, expecting back the football. I walked to the edge of the street, pushing my torn shirt back in place against my road rash belly, and flung the ball sideways in baseball fashion. More guffaws.

My older sister came to the entrance and shouted, “Get inside“. Across the street the tall boy picked the spinning football off the sidewalk and jacked back his head in a familiar anti-nod. His close cut hairline was pushed back on his slender, black forehead.  As I turned and took the first step, he licked the tips of his fingers with a huge, dark pink tongue before gripping the leather ball and tucking it under an arm. Another of the boys waved as they began to stand. At BTU, Peter left the boat and walked, briefly on water.

Later that week my Stepfather called me and Steve out of our room and to the front porch. In the yard were the gang of boys with the tall boy spinning a football in his huge palm. “Go ahead“, my Stepfather prodded, “You can ask ’em yo’self, son.” The boy said, “Uh, my name is Ricky Miller. Ya’ll wanna come up to the high-line field and play some football?” My Stepfather turned back inside saying over his shoulder, “Get back t’the house before I hafta light the porch.” Me and Steve followed the boys to the field at the top of the Morrell Street.

The boys introduced themselves as we walked and most were brothers: the Mcpherson boys were Ricky Lane, Larry and Michael; Keith Wayne Jernigan and Chili-Wayne Epperson were singles; the Taylor boys were Mickey, Gilbert and lil Keith. The big boy was Ricky Miller and his younger brother was Clifton.

Once at the field Ricky Miller showed me how to hold and throw the football, then sent me trotting down the field to catch the ball some more. He quickly discovered two things: I could run faster than most and had no idea what I was doing otherwise. He took me aside and drew jagged lines in the dirt that I was supposed to follow. He promised me that the football would be thrown at the area marked with an “X” and that I was supposed to catch it there. I ran the zigzags faster than the “Safety” boys who tried to keep me from doing it. Ricky Miller yelled a lot and the ball zipped through the air and landed on the various imaginary “X” marks.

Walking us back home Ricky Miller asked, “Don’t ch’all watch the Dallas Cowboys games on Sunday?” We both replied, “Sometimes, before we go back to BTU, but Mr. Howard yells and cusses too much at the t.v., so Mama says to play outside.”

Do y’all know Craig Morton?”, Ricky Miller tried again. ” How ’bout Walt Garrison? Bob Lilly? Don Meredith? Lee Roy Jordan? Y’all never heard of Bullet Bob Hayes or Pettis Norman, either?”. Before I could lie about knowing these names, Ricky Miller said, “Try to stay inside and watch the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday”. Then, without my asking, he handed me his football saying, “Throw it to each other and bring it back up to the field with you next time”.

We were half a block away from the house and Mr. Howard stood watching for us from the screened in porch. Morrell Street was leaning into the early grays of evening, but everything around us was suddenly brand new, imaginary zigzag patterns and “X’s”. Steve took off and ran across Ms. Palmer’s front yard yelling for the football. I threw it like Ricky Miller had been showing me. The worn, brown leather ball rose in the air and wobbled like a shot duck before dying ten feet away and bouncing to a stop.

Steve ran back  a few feet to get it. As he flung the ball back, a little less dying duck style to me, the bulb from our screened in porch sprang to an amazingly brighter life.


 

Jas. Mardis is an Award winning Poet, Writer and Art Quilter. He has been awarded the Push Cart Prize for Poetry and is a 2014 Inductee to the Texas Literary Hall of Fame. For a long time as a boy on Morrell Street he was known as “Buggy” and “Crazyleggs”. If you are in the Houston, Texas area please stop by the Holocaust Museum of Houston and see my Art Quilt, “Am I Human to You Yet?: The return of the African Dodger” in the 4 month exhibition, Man’s Inhumanity to Mankind. .

Photo Credit: Library of Congress Photo collection Farm Security Act

Jas. Mardis Didn’t Die at 9 Yrs Old

JamesI will not lose hope when hearing News & Political reports that the Protest Marches around the Country are a result of the TWO POLICE ACTIONS IN BATON ROUGE AND MINNESOTA.

I’m from a community that has tracked “historic official wrongs” as far back as Chattel Enslavement thru the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, Cointelpro, Emmett Till, the MOVE Bombing, Eugene “Bull” Connor, Medgar…Malcolm…Martin…and that’s just up to my birth!

I don’t tell the story often but, I looked down the barrel of a Police revolver at the age of 9 in my Oak Cliff backyard. Those Police said that my 7 year old brother and I were acting as lookouts for “somebody who was robbing houses”. We were actually building a go cart.

Two old ladies from across the street: “nosey” Ms. Emma Palmer and our only White neighbor, Ms. Ginger, assaulted those Officers with a cackling, shaming protest until they let me up off the ground.

As I prepare to turn fifty-five I can offer you this one, true reality of being one Black boy who “knows what it means to have been spared”.

Every time a story is recounted of a boy, girl, woman or man fallen at the hands or gun of an “RADICALIZED POLICE OFFICER”…

Every time those Mother’s, Father’s, Girlfriend, Homie’s, SIbling’s, Pastor’s, Neighbor’s wails fill the air…

Every time a jury spits into the necessary blindfold of Lady Justice and redefines a technicality to free a Zimmerman or a corrupt bully officer…

Every time…for forty-five years, since falling to the ground and curling into a ball in my Oak Cliff backyard… wailing for my sister to “help” as she swung open the back screen door…waiting for the hard click and popping bang/boom of that Yelling Policeman’s big-assed gun to begin…

Every time I hear folks in this country just piss on the reality of facing random, ongoing, under-investigated cases of death by official Police actions…at 7, 13, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22…40…50…53…54…55…70… years of age…

I involuntarily clinch and hold my bladder and bowels so that when I stand…no one will ever again see, as they did when I was nine, that I have lost all control.

 

26 Blocks: Oak Cliff Powerline Field Football Champs

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A blog series: Part 1 

Ricky Miller: The Original Black Quarterback

When I was seven some boys spotted me and my brother, Steve, leaping onto the huge planters that fronted our Church. It was right before Baptist Training Union and we were avoiding going in until the last minute. The planters were beige stone structures that graduated in height from street level to the top of a stack of steps at the entrance. We leapt high and laughed hard when the other one fell on his landing. Our Buster Brown shoes were scuffed green and chalk white from the shrubbery and brick. Behind us the boys huddled on the Jacobs’ front facing yard and watched silently. At some point one of the boys; a tall, dark-skinned, muscular boy with long arms and huge hands yelled out, “Hey!”

I was landing bad and stumbled sideways with a big, falling forward motion when he had yelled. Looking toward his shout I saw a football slicing the distance and zeroing in on my face at the very spot where I didn’t know I was landing. I caught the ball with a fanatical squeeze and slap of my hands together and rolled forward onto the walkway. The boys across the street laughed and pointed and shook their surprised mouths closed with clasped hands and grass-staining rolls. It was the first time that I had EVER caught a football. The yelling boy smiled big and held up his hands in the same catching motion, expecting back the football. I walked to the edge of the street, pushing my torn shirt back in place against my road rash belly, and flung the ball sideways in baseball fashion. More guffaws.

My older sister came to the entrance and shouted, “Get inside“. Across the street the tall boy picked the spinning football off the sidewalk and jacked back his head in a familiar anti-nod. His close cut hairline was pushed back on his slender, black forehead.  As I turned and took the first step, he licked the tips of his fingers with a huge, dark pink tongue before gripping the leather ball and tucking it under an arm. Another of the boys waved as they began to stand. At BTU, Peter left the boat and walked, briefly on water.

Later that week my Stepfather called me and Steve out of our room and to the front porch. In the yard were the gang of boys with the tall boy spinning a football in his huge palm. “Go ahead“, my Stepfather prodded, “You can ask ’em yo’self, son.” The boy said, “Uh, my name is Ricky Miller. Ya’ll wanna come up to the high-line field and play some football?” My Stepfather turned back inside saying over his shoulder, “Get back t’the house before I hafta light the porch.” Me and Steve followed the boys to the field at the top of the Morrell Street.

The boys introduced themselves as we walked and most were brothers: the Mcpherson boys were Ricky Lane, Larry and Michael; Keith Wayne Jernigan and Chili-Wayne Epperson were singles; the Taylor boys were Mickey, Gilbert and lil Keith. The big boy was Ricky Miller and his younger brother was Clifton.

Once at the field Ricky Miller showed me how to hold and throw the football, then sent me trotting down the field to catch the ball some more. He quickly discovered two things: I could run faster than most and had no idea what I was doing otherwise. He took me aside and drew jagged lines in the dirt that I was supposed to follow. He promised me that the football would be thrown at the area marked with an “X” and that I was supposed to catch it there. I ran the zigzags faster than the “Safety” boys who tried to keep me from doing it. Ricky Miller yelled a lot and the ball zipped through the air and landed on the various imaginary “X” marks.

Walking us back home Ricky Miller asked, “Don’t ch’all watch the Dallas Cowboys games on Sunday?” We both replied, “Sometimes, before we go back to BTU, but Mr. Howard yells and cusses too much at the t.v., so Mama says to play outside.”

Do y’all know Craig Morton?”, Ricky Miller tried again. ” How ’bout Walt Garrison? Bob Lilly? Don Meredith? Lee Roy Jordan? Y’all never heard of Bullet Bob Hayes or Pettis Norman, either?”. Before I could lie about knowing these names, Ricky Miller said, “Try to stay inside and watch the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday”. Then, without my asking, he handed me his football saying, “Throw it to each other and bring it back up to the field with you next time”.

We were half a block away from the house and Mr. Howard stood watching for us from the screened in porch. Morrell Street was leaning into the early grays of evening, but everything around us was suddenly brand new, imaginary zigzag patterns and “X’s”. Steve took off and ran across Ms. Palmer’s front yard yelling for the football. I threw it like Ricky Miller had been showing me. The worn, brown leather ball rose in the air and wobbled like a shot duck before dying ten feet away and bouncing to a stop.

Steve ran back  a few feet to get it. As he chucked the ball back, a little less dying duck style to me, the bulb from our screened in porch sprang to an amazingly brighter life.

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Jas. Mardis is an Award winning Poet, Writer and Art Quilter. He has been awarded the Push Cart Prize for Poetry and is a 2014 Inductee to the Texas Literary Hall of Fame. For a long time as a boy on Morrell Street he was known as “Buggy” and “Crazyleggs”.

Photo Credit: Library of Congress Photo collection Farm Security Act

Jr. Mardus: Now-n-Later Thief–repost

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I have not seen Raymond Nathan Anderson since he fled Stafford’s Grocery on September 23, 1971, leaving me to explain the short pack of chocolate Now-n-Laters candy in my outer coat pocket.

On the store counter was a big moon cookie that Mr. Stafford had readied for one of our weekly nickels. In my mouth there was a chewed Windmill cookie. In my mind was the certainty that, once Raymond came from wherever he was in the rear of the little Grocery, he would pay up.  He did not pay.

In third grade, Raymond and I took turns paying five cent for two cookies from the clear, red topped canister on the counter at Stafford’s. That day Raymond came to the front of the store and bumped into me saying with a jittery voice, “I ain’t got no nickel t’day“. I stopped chewing.  A suddenly tight-faced and pale Mr. Stafford rumbled around the end of the counter. Raymond fled and the Grocer locked the heavily latched door.  Before I could figure things out he had snapped a picture  of me with a well-used, white Polaroid One Step camera. (Yes, that one) He started fanning the ejected, magically developing paper as he called for Clifton to come out from the stock room.

Clifton was the husband of our Pastor’s third daughter, Ethel. The  Store was just one hundred yards away and on the same side of the street as the Greater Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church. Just outside of the Store, was where the 47 Moore City Bus stopped daily at 4:00pm and discharged my Mother.  He came to the front,  saw me and the waving snapshot, then looked up to the clock above the locked door. Mr Stafford alternated his reddening face between me, Clifton and then back out the small, chicken-wired screened window where Raymond had been seen running.

Mr. Stafford pulled the black grease pen from Clifton’s apron pocket and wrote the word “THIEF” beneath my image. “That’s a pretty slick distraction plan you two had going there, Junior“, the Grocer said through a suddenly, narrow-lipped, minimal-tooth grin.  “But, I had yo’ buddy eye-balled the whole time you were up here pickin’ out yo’ cookie“, he added. “Next time you might want to have him do a lil’ less of that head bobbing when he’s stuffing the goods into his pockets. That’s a dead give away, Buddy!”, his voice rose a pitch with the last word. Before that moment he had always called me “Jr” or “Jr. Ma’dus”. It was clear that things had changed.

Clifton put his ashen hand on my shoulder and let the thick fingers of his grip “message” into my youthful and shocked core, “Jr. Madus, you thank’n dat frien’ boy of your’n musta want them candies in place of dem cookies t’day? He musta seen you chomping down on dat Win’mill an’.  figgard you want gon pay for his part!”. I was in the third grade. It would be sixth grade before this kind of logic easily caught up to me.  I coughed on the words as they spit up from inside me, “Clifton, we ALWAYS get the cookies! He know he was s’pposed to pay Mr. Stafford for the cookies. He didn’t say nuthin’ bout getting Now/Laters“.  Even in memory I hear my words blaring loudly and incredulously from my shaking, nine-year-old self.

Clifton side-eyed Mr. Stafford’s direction and looked back to me with a disgraced frown. “Well“, he said looking up to the clock above the door again, “Miss Rose ought to be getting off the 47 Mo’ in about an hour now.” Turning to his employer Clifton offered a well spoken parlay, “He can come work off them few nickels, Mr. Stafford, with that section of beans that come in today. I still got that rack of dirty RC and Nehi Grape bottles to wash out, too.” He paused and reached over the counter where a folded white apron appeared and was shaken loose. Not waiting for Stafford’s agreement Clifton slipped the apron over my head and pulled me toward the aisle of plank shelving. He pointed for me to start lining up cans.

Back at the front Mr. Stafford walked to the door and thumb-tacked my defacto mug shot to the door jamb. Clifton sighed and blew a whistle into the dusty air of the Grocery store’s closing in walls. The 7-Up advertising clock above the chicken-wired window churned its second hand faster and faster than I had ever seen time fly. I sweated in my overcoat as the clock’s short black hand fell toward the 4 and the long hand pressed closer to the 11.

Clifton stood with a grunt and headed to the front. I couldn’t hear what was being said, but Clifton motioned a thumb toward me and wagged his head alot before it was all over and the long hand fell between the 1 and 2 of the number twelve. I imagined the sounds of air expressing and the familiar squeal and braking of the 47 Moore bus and the opening of that heavy door until I was unable to lift another can.

With my head hanging and the tears started to build on the reality of being killed at 4:01pm, the two men suddenly stopped their hushed talking. The door was opening. It wasn’t the familiar push and pitched opening that most patrons used at Stafford’s. Instead, the door was slipping open inch-by-inch and I stood to see who was entering, anticipating my Mother’s thin, brown hand and silver wedding ring to break into view.

Just as suddenly, the men turned back to the window and I heard the bus slowing through the chicken-wired window. The bell above the door clanged a short burst and both men cursed as a tearing sound and pop of thumb tacks on the floor broke the silence of the little Grocery. “Dammit! Get him Cliff.” Mr. Stafford shouted from his side of the counter and Clifton rushed for the shutting door. The Grocer rounded the counter and joined him out the door where a cluster of the “THIEF” polaroids had been snatched.

I made it to the counter in time to see an older boy called “Slick”, wearing a familiar silver studded jean jacket, in a loping stride up the slope that lead toward the Church. Clifton was close behind him. His white apron untying with a long, stumbling stride. Mr. Stafford simply gave up at the street’s edge still yelling, “Get HIM, Clifton!” as the 47 Moore bus pulled forward and turned the corner heading back toward Downtown. In the confusion, my Mother skipped her stop at the little Grocery and glanced both ways before crossing the street toward home.

I took off the apron and, knowing that I would not be allowed back into Stafford’s Grocery, slipped Raymond Anderson’s big moon cookie and the short pack of chocolate Now-N-Later candy from the counter and into my coat pocket. The bell had broken off with one of the men’s exits, so I slipped out and around the opposite outside wall and waited for Mr. Stafford to head back inside. I slid across the two lane road toward home.

Later, when she called for me to go get a can of PET milk, my Mother told me to get it at The Market further up the block from Stafford’s. She had been thinking about all of his chasing and yelling and the shameful Polaroids on his door frame. Seeing that young boy “running for his life today”, she said,  “was the last straw. It’s only a matter of time”, she shook her head, “before that man accuses somebody like you!”

 

 

 

Jas. Mardis is an awarded Poet, Radio Commentator and Quilter. He is a 2014 Inductee to The Texas Literary Hall of Fame and has a 2000 Push Cart Prize Winner for Poetry. His blog post, “I Bought a Stranger a $5 Dress” has been nominated for a 2015 Push Cart Prize. Thank You Ms. Coco Harris for your support and selection of that story.

 

Sharing Like It’s Going Out of Style

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One year, when we were still a family living in the white frame house on Morrell Street in Dallas, Texas, we ate beans and rice or collard greens nearly every day. Later that year, while out for Christmas break, we got used to inviting some new kids in with us for dinner. Of course, we were used to the food by then, but it was the first time that I had heard and got a different understanding of the phrase, “Like they going out of style“.

There were five kids in our family and we dared not flinch when those words came across the sparse dinner table from my brother’s invited friend, a boy called “Meatball”. He was squat, dark-hued, round with a bushel of uncombed hair and gave off the suggested shape of a big, well, meat ball. His rather large family was new to a duplex further down the hill that was Morrell Street. Even in the colder months most of them spilled out onto the porch and yard during non-sleeping hours. Up and down that block all of our families were just making due, but even our construction-job injured Stepfather had encouraged us to invite and share with the kids whenever possible.

Meatball didn’t bother looking up from his fast moving spoon through a bowl of crumbled cornbread and black-eyed peas. Even though he had used the bathroom sink to clean up it was not hard to find patches of differing colored dirt streaking his scrawny, short sleeved arm and pointy elbow as he ate. We had already prayed, passed the cornbread and Kool-Aid. Now, we waited on a spoon of steaming collard greens from a big, worn pot that sat at one end of the table when he blurted up, “Ya’ll eat beans like they going out of style!”.

We just kept passing our plates from one person to the next and waited for them to return with a layered serving of meatless collard greens. Secretly, we all hoped for one of the bacon or salt jowl halves that seasoned the greens, but that succulent meat often landed on our Stepfather’s plate. Meatball did not pass his plate. He continued to feast on the certainty of his beans and dodged the long arms that reached, grabbed and ignored his sloppy chewing. With all the plates in place our Stepfather called to the little complainer, “Gimme yo’ plate, son“. A moment passed before my brother grabbed and handed off the boy’s crumb-littered plate. Meatball started chewing faster.

For the second time that day neither of us five flinched as Meatball’s plate of hot collards was passed back to him. Mixed into the feathery stack of greens were the two curling halves of thick sliced, red meat and water pearled bacon fat. Again, the pain mellowed bass of our Stepfather’s words wafted toward Meatball, “You reckon dat fatback might be in style, Meatboy?” His mispronunciation kicked a big laugh into the room and nearly everybody corrected him, “It’s MEAT BALL, Mr. Howard“. It was the first time since being injured and returning home from two months of traction in a hospital bed that he smiled big and laughed a full throated guffaw. The bacon slipped in and out of Meatball’s greasy lipped mouth and the room grew brighter with his  addictive and toothy grin.

It would be a few more months of beans and greens and visits from Meatball and others hoping for the fatback on their plates, but never from us five.  Big laughs came slowly back into the white house at 1423 Morrell after the “meat boy” meal. There was new job with less pain and risk of injury for our slow moving Mr. Howard. Around the same time there was Christmas and five thunderous, overflowing, cellophane covered fruit baskets with hard, awkward nuts and candy canes with a single wrapped present. It all got shared on our screened-in porch, along with other toys from up and down Morrell Street…and the echoing, baritone laughter from just inside the door.

 

 

Jas. C. Mardis is a Poet, Quilter and Storyteller. He is a 2014 Inductee into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame.

 

Photo credit:   Rosskam, Edwin, 1903-,  Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection 1938