In the 1920’s they carved bust of men into the face of Mount Rushmore. My ancestors carved men. But not into a granite mountain face, but out of us boys. They made a few errors, just as the mountain carvers did. But I think my ancestors carved a lot deeper, into a much harder material. The human male spirit.
MEN DON’T CRY. My Uncle said that to me after he gave me a spanking outside the church when I was five. He had taken me outside because I wouldn’t stop crying at my cousin Margarete’s funeral. As I remember it, the spanking didn’t hurt, but it came unexpectedly. I didn’t understand why he did it, perhaps he thought he was doing the right thing. Taking necessary steps to insure that I didn’t become “sissy- fide”. That was a term most Black men in the 60’s used to say that a man was effeminate or gay. Afterwards he took me by the men’s room and washed my face. When we returned to the funeral service, he had me sit down beside him, instead of next to my Mom and Auntie. Now being on the second row from the front, I sat with all the other menfolk of the Perkins family. Momma had her arm around Aunt Mary and was consoling her in her grief. Eight year old Margarete had been killed riding her bike on the main highway, by a water truck. The driver had tried to brake, but the vehicle had begun the skid sideways. The truck ‘s momentum caused the truck to tip onto her. Killing her instantly. I fought with some difficultly not to start crying again. I eyed my Uncle Sim to see if he was watching me, to see if I was crying again. His glance was fixed forward on the Pulpit, but I could see his eyes behind his sunglasses, from my low viewpoint on the pew. He wasn’t looking at me, but his eyes were bloodshot red. I continually thought about he said about men not crying, what did I know about manhood? I was only five years old for Christ’s sake and I was crying because my Momma was crying. This was the beginning of my discovery of what they thought, it takes to be a man.
That day passed me 45 years ago . My maternal Grandmother had 18 children, of which there were 10 boys, and 8 girls. One boy and one girl died in infancy. All of the Perkins children are dead now, save my Mother. The other day I was watching television and the Judge used the term “man up” while talking to one of the petitioners in his court. His admonition of the young defendant brought my uncle’s words from so long ago, back to the present day. “Men don’t cry!” he had said, “Now quit acting like a little sissy boy and wipe away those tears!” I did as he said and he led me back into the sanctuary with a short stop at the men’s room. As I said before, his intentions were noble, even if they were misguided. With those words, he had shaped the frame-work for what I considered to a man. He had said men don’t cry, but what translated to me was ” men don’t show weakness by allow your feelings to be in the open, especially the tender ones. I think that he and all of the other men hid those tender emotions behind a fifth of gin, which would explain the fact that each and every one died of alcohol related deaths. In 1984, I went to the hospital to see Uncle Sim on his deathbed at the hospital. He was in good spirits considering all the tubes and machines that they had him hooked up to. He had me go down the hallway and get him some ice. When I returned with the ice, he produced a bottle of W. L. Weller whiskey from under the sheets and began to pour himself a drink. I protested that he wasn’t supposed to be drinking that stuff in the hospital, I said the stuff is killing him. He just laughed and said that he was going to die of something anyway, it might as well be something that he liked. He died the next morning. His “monkey” rode him right into his grave.
I was a sickly child at birth, as a consequence of my infirmities, a spent most of my early childhood with my Mom. My siblings went to a babysitter a month after she delivered them. Mom took a year off working to care for me at home. I contracted pneumonia in November of 1963. The physician examined me and told Mom to take me home, because I was going to die. My Mom sat up with me all that first night, she had no expectations of my being alive in the morning. Aunt Mary was at the door before daylight the next morning and took me from her baby sister’s arms, Mom was exhausted. She bundled me up and took me to her house down the street. She made a salve of horse liniment and boiled hog hooves, she also made a tea of cow chips( manure). On the fourth day, my aunt said I was climbing out of the crib and throwing pacifiers at her, that coupled with my laughs told her I was out of the woods. When I was taken back to the hospital, the doctor that had called me terminally ill, said my recovery, was nothing short of a miracle.
TO BE CONTINUED