By Ernie McCray
Maria recently asked her family and me (a relatively new member of the clan) to look over some questions and maybe talk about them later over a meal.
I took a peek and, regarding the first question, I’m grateful for having reached 77 years of age which, to me, signifies, that I am of the old and the wise, fit, still with it, busting moves everyday. These are “The Good Old Days!”
I’m so grateful to have friends and family to love and to know that they love me back. I’m grateful for my mother and grandfather who, long time ago, got me on the right track.
What am I proudest of? That would be having walked my talk, in a spirit of love, ducking and taking the blows it takes to create, out of that love, learning environments that were respectful of children’s humanity – role-modeling, as an “educator,” each step of the way, how an “educated” person should be in the world.
The happiest moment of my life so far? Easy: seeing my oldest daughter survive an assault on her heart that nearly took her away. I wanted to sing “Oh, Happy Days!”
The hardest moment in my life and how I got through it? My Nancy’s death, by far. Losing her brought on tears that flowed from my eyes like falls and streams and rivers rushing to all the oceans in the universe. Those were such dreary days!
I got through it with a lot of love from my children and friends. Their thoughts and prayers helped me put one foot in front of the other, step by step, day after day, week after week, month after month. After about a year the emotional pain eased and I began to cry less, and since I had written and acted and taught some, and continued protesting against injustices, and the like, all the while – well, I had somehow maintained a life-line with other earthlings. I was able to move on, with my beloved becoming a part of me, tucked away nicely in a place reserved for my sweetest of memories.
I’ve learned one important lesson in life and that is: when one acts out of love, the pursuit of his or her hopes and dreams becomes a love story with a happy ending.
To describe myself as a child I’d say that I was very curious about war and other grownup pastimes and second-class citizenship was baffling to me. I loved to read and write and I lived to compete in anything that required a ball. At any time.
And, yeah, I was very happy. Take away Jim Crow acting a fool, I’d say everything was cool, idyllic even. I lived in a colorful neighborhood where: men tipped their hats to women; Pachucos and Be-Boppers strutted down the street, ever so “hep,” and “all-reet”; ice-cream and cimarrona carts were rolled down the street; Toby, the grocer, would roll up in front of your house in his old beat up truck singing “Black-eyed peas and okra!” He knew our needs.
I got good grades in school. Took part in all the activities. Had a bunch of friends with whom I could jive and high five. My church, Mt. Calvary, was child oriented with a softball team and easter egg hunts and Youth Sundays and picnics on the 4th of July. Oh, I’ve been happy most of my life.
So many people have been kind to me but my mother has been the kindest. Put simply she was always there: giving me an “amen” when I sang in the choir; laughing out loud when I cited one of my silly ditties at the Dunbar Talent Show; cheering wildly every time I hit or blocked a shot or grabbed a rebound and whipped an outlet pass to set up a fast break.
She gave me all I ever needed and let me know that if I wanted to delve into “what was in” or keep up with the Joneses, I was on my own. So I’ve been working since I was five because all those “money don’t grow on trees” asides didn’t jibe with the “being down with my homies” side of me.
I want to be remembered as someone who cared, who loved, who appreciated the ride, who got up everyday to do something to make the world a better place, with no apologies.
If my great great grandchildren could listen to this years from now I would want them to respect the lessons of the past and “be in the now,” and contribute to the making of a better world with all the love that’s in them, somehow. I want them to be grateful and happy for all the good in their life.
If I could honor one person in my life – living or dead – by listening to their story, it would be my maternal grandfather. I’d want to know what his thoughts were when he ran from the plantation and had to hide away in so many southern towns, knowing that his life was, for a long period of time, on the line.
I’d pursue this line of questioning because I’d like to hear more about how he was such a loving and happy man when it seems that he could have, easily, been hateful and vengeful and bitter – rightfully so, in such a rough and tumble world.
I’ve long wondered if he and I might have had similar thought processes as we figured out how to make our way as human beings. I kind of think so, but one thing I know for sure, he’s my hero, along with that daughter of his I called mom. “Two peas in a pod” they were.” And I make three.
Hmmm, I love ending this survey with thoughts of them. I’m left with a feeling of happiness and I’ll mark that up as one more thing for which I’m grateful (my mother, “Ms. Grammar,” would appreciate that I didn’t end this sentence with a preposition).
I can’t wait to hear what the rest of the family has to say.
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