It was a day of remembrance as I walked through the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn where I was raised six decades ago.It was a day of ambivalence as an incongruent feeling of happiness and sadness shrouded my inner being.I began to reflect on those who were once so much a crucial part of my life and had now either passed away or we simply grew apart delving into life's challenges.I felt the spirit of those souls and smiled. I pictured my friends and myself briskly running down Sumner Avenue and then back down Halsey Street and over to Lewis Avenue playing those childhood games of the times:tag,hop scotch,red light-green light,jumping double dutch rope and simply languishing in those long summer days and chilling winters.
I thought about how I had attended the storefront church which ironically was perched on top of a pool hall. I thought about Sunday School and how I never understood the Bible stories except something about fire and brimstone and how if I wasn't good I might end up in eternal damnation.I thought about how the preacher's sermons seemed more like the beautiful, lovely scatting of jazz singers as he bellowed the teachings of the Lord provoking those that felt the holy spirit to leap from their seats and strut up and down the aisle.
And then there were my mother's friends who would attend the weekly card games, often in our very small apartment on Halsey Street and how they laughed,talked,joked and reminisced about the experiences of living in the south as they ate fried fish sandwiches, potato salad,fried chicken and collard greens.And how they loved to crumble cornbread between their fingers mixed with the juices from the greens called pot licker.
I remember the music blaring from the hi-fi: Ray Charles,Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah,Washington,Jackie Wilson,BB King and the vast list of jazz,gospel and even African music.
I remember the hugs from my parents' friends and the tears they shed when they lost a loved one.
I remember the rapping noise on our door as my father signaled his arrival home from work as a maintenance employee at Madison Square Garden. I would run to the door and he'd scoop me up followed by our nightly ritual as we waited for him to shower before sitting down together at the dinner table.
But then there was my confusion as my dad lay dying at the Veteran's hospital and how they smuggled me in to see him one last time.And how my mother suffered great despair as she faced raising me alone.It was a difficult time held together by the familiarity of the neighborhood and old friends.
Today,this continuously gentrifying neighborhood is still packed with remnants of the old days.The laundromat that I knew as a child still stands on the corner of Halsey and Throop while the rib house definitely remains crouched between two humble store fronts directly across the street. The stately brownstones, many of which,thankfully, have not given way to tall luxury buildings,seem to whisper that they too have thrived from the memories of its past.
And although my life as a child in Bedford Stuyvesant was no Utopia,I am grateful that my most influential and nurturing memories are of love,laughter,dignity and perseverance.