Monday, September 29, 2008

Old Folks...

Whattup peoples??

I had an interesting conversation at work with an older gentleman and his wife. From living in Chicago in the 1950s to working in the steel mills of Gary, IN, and from getting a high school diploma at age 25 to seeing Marian Anderson perform live in Carnegie Hall, we ran the gamut of topics and covered a lot of ground. We even had discussions of my goals and dreams.

As we all conversed, I noticed how times have really changed: the prices of gas; the advent of WalMart post Woolco and Woolworth, Benneton, and Zayre; cars costing only four figures instead of five, and so forth. Also, I learned a veryt valuable lesson...

Often, we as youth cast the older generation aside, as if they are just living in senility and visions of yestertear. But, we miss the fact that those same septa-, octa -, and nonagenarians have so much wisdom imparted in them because they have lived through so many different experiences and obstacles that we can only dream of. I learned more in twenty minutes speaking with this couple than I did watching twenty years of BET.

So, the next time one of my elders stop me to speak, I won't shrug them off in a desperate attempt to get away...I'm going to listen.

Just thinking...and remembering Woolworth's on 113th and Michigan...

Friday, September 5, 2008


The other day, I was walking down the street with my cousin George, my father, and my brothers, Tre'Von and Brandon, headed towards the park just to play catch-up. It had been a LONG time since I had seen any of them and it was good to have them all in the same place, just talking and what not. It had been a while since I was back home in Chicago anyway, so we all decided to just hang out and chill with one another.

As we were walking, I noticed an old friend, Terrence White, that I hadn't seen since eighth grade. I told my family that I would catch up with them, and that I had to go say wassup to Terrence, seeing how I hadn't seen him in 13 years. I ran into a store, following him. Upon entry, I noticed that he was nowhere to be found. I looked, looked, and looked again, to no avail. Where in the world did he go?

Finally, I heard some voices coming from above; instinct told me to look up. At the top of some stairs, there he was, coming down. "Oh my God, it's Terrence White!" I said to him, which elicited a smile from him. "Wow, Jamaal Bivens, the smartest dude in Higgins," he said. We shook hands, hugged, and grinned at each other. What seemed like an eternity passed as he and I played catch-up, updating each other on the goings-on in our lives. Then, I realized that my family just might be looking for me, so we exchanged numbers, and I promised to call him when I returned to Jacksonville.

After walking for a bit, I finally caught up with my family, as they were nearing the park. My youngest brother, Tre'Von, had the silliest idea that he could pick me up. "Jamaal, I can, watch!" he said as he proceeded to bear-hug my thighs and attempt to hoist me in the air. I laughed at his determination; my younger brother, Brandon, laughed as well. Brandon then told Tre'Von, "This is how you do it." As he attempted, I told him, "Now you know you are 'Skinny Minny', so there is no way you are picking me up." Of course, he couldn't. I glanced at my cousin, who looked back at me and said, "Now you know I ain't even trying."

My father laughed at each of them. "Come here Jamaal, you know I can get you," he said to me with his trademark sheepish grin. I leered at him. "Dad, you know I am taller than you. How do you profess to pick me up?" Now, knowing that I'm 6'4" and about 220 pounds, that's no easy feat. But, my father picked me up, and even told me to sit on his shoulders, and I happily obliged. I'm sure to anyone walking or driving by that this had to be an awkward sight; a huge, giant of a man sitting on another man's shoulders. But, to me, it reminded me of a childhood that I wish I had; growing up with my father. I laughed and grinned and cheered like the youngest 26 year old ever. I was a kid again!

We stayed in the park for about an hour or so, catching up, singing, and laughing. Suddenly my father said, "Hey, how about we go to your grandmother's house so she can cook you something?" He and I laughed really hard at that notion, because we couldn't immediately think of the last time Grandma Ora actually cooked something. As we started to walk, I looked around and then it hit me. "Dad, we aren't going to walk all the way to Grandma's house, are we?" He laughed and said, "Boy, now I know you think I am the peak of fitness, but if we started walking now, I'm sure we'd get there by next week." I laughed at him and then felt kind of silly, realizing how far she really lived. And then it hit me...

"Dad, we can't go to Grandma's house." He stopped walking and looked really puzzled, thought a bit, and then looked at me quizzically and asked, "Why not?" I looked down at my feet, not really wanting to admit it out loud, but seeing the reality of the situation. "Because she died last year."

He looked at me, somber at first, and then perked up and said, "No, that was just a dream." I looked at him, trying to understand fully what he just said. I know for a fact I was there at Grandma's funeral; I couldn't've dreamt that. I looked around and suddenly, I didn't know where I was. Even though I hadn't been in Chicago in a little while, somehow, we were no longer in my neighborhood, or even close proximity. It almost reminded me a little of...Central Park?

"No, wait...none of this is right...this is all wrong," I said, unknowingly, out loud. My father looked at me as if I was crazy, and asked "What's wrong?"

"All of this," I said. "You, Grandma, Brandon, George...this isn't right." The levees had broken and I could feel the heat as each tear flowed down my face...

And I woke up. I looked at the clock, and it was 4:28am. I looked around, and I was in my room in Jacksonville, in moonlit darkness. And I cried myself back to sleep.

RIP: Cousin George (1983-2005), Grandma Ora (1934-2007) and Dad (1959-2008)