As I grew up, my condition began to improve. I was able to start hanging out with the other children and play with the boys. I would also be invited to sit with the men at family gatherings and any social event where the women would normally be preparing the pea salad, potato salad, or cakes, while the men were outside barbecuing. The men’s activities usually consisted of cooking the meat, telling tall tales, and drinking. They would always give us a beer from the tin water cooler at every gathering. Sometimes they would even teach us how to smoke cigarettes and pipes. During the regaling and drinking, one of the elder men ( when he got drunk enough) would say to the younger men in the group, that the only way to be a man, was to be in control of his household. After drinking a bottle of whiskey or gin, they would stand up and say things like “Boy! If you don’t keep your woman in line, she going to run all over you! I’m telling you the God’s honest truth! Spare the rod and spoil the wife! The first time she buck you or sass you and you don’t slap her across the face, she going to do it again!” There would be agreement amongst all in attendance on the subject. From the statement “keep you woman in check” I learned that a is man is supposed to keep his house in order by using force. At seven or eight years old I didn’t agree with that. But I knew better than to challenge them on that subject because they thought they were right. They thought that they were so right in, that they would quote from the Bible by saying that “God said that the man would be the head over the woman.” as if they had read straight from the book of Genesis. Which I knew was unlikely, since most of them could not read on even a first grade level. Please don’t think that I am trying to belittle them in any way, but their education was slight and they did what they were taught.
Sometimes their ghosts visit me in my dreams, asking questions of me, about the way my children are. As if they are second guessing me. While I agree that a man should be strong, I don’t a man should be brutish. Many times a harsh command will fail to do, what a gentle urging can get accomplished. My case in point is the time that my biological father came to town for a visit and called me from my brother’s house. Demanding the I take off work and come to my brother’s house so he could see his Grand-kids. Now, in my life I could count one on hand that I saw him, in fact our last parting left something to be desired. It was his tone and his way of telling me to do something that caused me not to go. I wasn’t upset with him in any way, but his voice never had any influence in my life and he wasn’t there when I was growing up. If my Step-dad had made the same requests, I would have been there. But then again my Step-dad would have never asked me in that way or in that tone.
I remember when my Uncle Martin and his family moved to our town. They stayed with us for four days while they found an apartment. I was doing my homework when Uncle Martin came to the kitchen table and had me help him fill out an application. He had me read the questions on the application, (name, address, phone, work history, etc. ) and he would tell me the answers to write down. He said he broke his glasses and couldn’t read the application. I think he was embarrassed about not being able to read. Mom had told me years before, that most of her brothers couldn’t read. This was because they didn’t attend school, when they had work to do in the fields. Most the boys were born before the Great Depression and were sent to work in cotton fields at a young ages. The boys younger than Mom were also tasked to do chores around the farm and go hunting with Grandpa, who worked at the railroad during the day and hunted and trapped at night. I often wonder what it might have been like, not to have a Wal-Mart or a 7-Eleven to go to and buy everything you need.
In a long chat with Mom after Thanksgiving about Uncle Sims’ reaction to my crying at the funeral, she told me that she never knew he did that, but that she was not surprised, that was the way Papa brought them up. To be hard men, to have a lack of those “womanly” ways. She said that her first husband was raised the same way, and when he started hitting her she left him and never went back. I know without anyone telling me, that the world can be a cold, hard or even harsh place. Maybe they did their best of teaching us in their ignorance, but the bottom line is that their lessons were misplaced and had to be a leading cause of my generation’s alcohol,spousal,and substance abuse. Not to say that it completely the cause, but a substantial part of the effect in our society. It has us (African-Americans) more aggressive towards each other (in example the Blood & the Crips), disrespectful to our women, and callous with the care of children and elders. I respected my father and uncles because they showed respect to their elders, and even to the women. Because even though they abusive, they would never argue in front of us. Never. They had no tolerance of the use foul language at all. Many words used by children today, would have caused them to be beat to death in my era. In looking back over the years, I can see what they were trying to carve, but I wonder if they were aware of the cracks they left in the men of stone.