Back then, children were only aware of four careers, and they rose black like totems against the distant horizon. Supposing youth ever did wane and, improbably, we did morph into adults someday, the only things we thought of being were policemen, firemen, doctors, or lawyers. I liked the first two options. You know, normal schoolboy fantasies. Most people in Hearne, Texas were farmers, but my family lived in the urban area of the town. My dad worked at a gravel pit until I was nine, when he passed away. What I remember of him is pleasant. My mom stayed at home with my sister and me. It was just the three of us. My older two brothers and sister were grown and on their own, so my mother, sister, and I existed in isosceles-type equilibrium. My mother seemed ideal to me as a boy, like some incarnation of justice always making sure we knew right from wrong. My sister was more someone to play alongside of than with—she was interested in dolls and I preferred trucks, hoops, or hunting, yet the two of us were still close.
I started school at six, and I loved it. Knowledge wasn’t really something I had to keep tilling and poking and prodding around for to obtain. It opened itself up to me like a treasure chest with a rusted lock, dousing me with imaginary numbers, obelisks, kingdoms, codes, runes, poems, obscure words, treaties, promises, and dreams. I loved math, literature, and history. I read on my own when I could spare the hours, but back then we were always trying to get something to expand and grow—a garden, an animal, something that in future seasons colored gilt or jade could be eaten, could give us life. I was valedictorian of my senior class. Don’t ask me what I spoke about. I don’t even remember. There are ten million words, memories, moments I would give you willingly if I could place them in the right order, summon them to the surface of my mind, but age can hide eras and seconds under leaves, lock them in gardens, shut them up in closets, bind them to the shadows.
I was drafted after high school to aid the U.S. in our fight against Korea, although, fortunately, I was able to stay here. I met your grandmother while in the Army. I took her to her high school prom when my buddy, whom she had invited, couldn’t get leave. I thought I’d do him a favor. He promised me the girl was pretty—and wow. She was beautiful, but she was also kind, and she knew exactly what she wanted from life. I felt that the two of us could locate the labyrinths within each other and follow the winding corridors to that wild place which is the heart. Times when I was granted leave from the military to take Almeta, my Be-Bop, out on dates were wonderful. The rest of my days as a soldier weren’t as lovely. I tried to serve my country valiantly, but I hated taking orders. After my compulsory two years I didn’t sign up for more.
With Almeta as my wife, I headed to Houston to go to Texas Southern University. Two years in the army had earned me four years of college tuition. My life seemed to be divided. Unlike my classmates, I was a married homeowner. In a little while I was also a father. I worked two jobs, but I also had homework. On campus, I majored in tailoring, later electronics, enjoying classes and college life. At home, I tried to find time to be with my wife, and my newborn daughter, Diane, whose birth had made me so content. After three and a half years of college with only thirty hours left to go, the government told me my college tuition money had run out. Again, the duplicity of my life struck me. As a young husband and first time father I had a great home life, yet my hopes for a college degree had ended.
You see, I have had a happy life but an extremely hard one nonetheless. I felt blessed to have had six healthy kids, but I always wanted to provide for them and my wife a little more than I have been able to. I didn’t have a favorite out of the six, and I didn’t have many rules to follow. I only insisted that they study hard so that life would not be so difficult. I had to work most of the time, but whenever I had a few moments to play with my kids I treasured them. Even now, I love being with my grandkids—not participating in any particular activity with you or for any special reason, but merely because I like the aura your children’s children give you when you are near them. I admire their accomplishments and delight in their differences, respecting them all as individuals.
One of the most difficult things in my life has been racism. I hated segregation, and sometimes I wouldn’t adhere to it. At work, I drank from the white water fountain, brandishing a knife at anyone who didn’t like the sight of it. It broke my heart when both John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. died, because I thought that blacks may never attain civil rights. We have, to a certain extent, but the roots of the civil rights movement have nurtured all types of fruits. As foul a thing as segregation was, when it was around there had to be black business owners because blacks weren’t welcome as clients in so many white businesses. Blacks had no choice about either being entrepreneurs or supporting other black entrepreneurs. Now that blacks can patronize any establishment, black entrepreneurship has decreased, converting racial segregation into economic segregation. While my generation focused on attaining civil rights, younger generations should work on attaining education and encouraging people of all races to support black entrepreneurship.
I have had so many years and seen so many wonders. I have seen a nation morph and a man walk on the moon—although at first I doubted my eyes. I believe in a Supreme Being that we cannot see. I don’t go to church because I do not like the tenets of denominations and the claims of pastors, yet I am loyal to God. Perhaps I cannot give you all of my stories because so many have been bitter. I didn’t consciously suppress them, but the mind is a survivor which out of necessity hides darkness. Yet despite the thorns that have been cruelly placed in so many lives, I assure you, Granddaughter, there is a better world somewhere. Search for its light, listen for its noise, gather it in your arms and help it to hatch. Wherever you see hope or hear rumor of this new world, hasten to it. Tend it. I have spent my life helping it to dawn. Now, Granddaughter, I pass this sacred duty on to you.