Saturday, June 23, 2007

Always And Forever....

JUNE 23, 1946. 61 years ago my parents vowed, "Till death do us part." They kept their promise. With my father's recent physical absence, today is a bittersweet day for my mother for sure.

Her man's gone now. Ain't no use a listenin' for his tired footsteps climbing up the stairs.

But I'm sure she can still feel his presence on the day that will always be one of the best days of her life. Always be her wedding anniversary.

And he'll always be her one and only love.

I honor your union today, love birds.

Even death won't part you now.

Your 50th wedding anniversary celebration

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Angels Watching Over Me

ON MY WAY HOME from Bangor last night, my life flashed before my eyes. I wish I could say I was being melodramatic. But I can't.

Headed south on I-95 and pushing the speed limit, as I am wont to do, a huge moose or deer—it happened so fast, it was dark and I couldn't be sure which it was (all it know is that it was huge and it was coming right at me)—lunged across the highway just as I was speeding by. Had I been driving a single mile per hour slower, it would have crashed directly into me.

As it was, it slipped behind my truck crossing just before the next truck—the image in the my rearview mirror of its legs galloping before the truck's headlights indelible in my brain—and into the woods along the outside of the highway.

Whew. After my stomach backed down from my throat, I immediately called my husband. I thought of my mother. She called me on Father's Day. Grieving, too, of course, she realized it would be a harder day for my sister and me than for her. Oh, how she gets it. Oh, how blessed am I. No way, no how would she deserve a bad news phone call.

I spoke to Frank on Father's Day as well. My husband and I had actually met him on Father's Day for the first time back in 2001 when I located my birth family. We exchanged family stories a terminal of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. First time I saw a man in person who looked just like me. Legs bowed wide enough to throw a basketball through.

I'm not close to him, we don't really see each other at all. But we love each other from a distance and he's a real cool kat. He calls me his special son. He's got more of those than you can count on two hands. And those are the ones we know about.

I'm honored to be his special one.

But this Father's Day felt different. As much as I wanted to talk to Frank, I had an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. As though I was only supposed to be mourning Daddy and not talking to my birth father.

Just when you think you've resolved everything.

Bu that gigantic creature galloping cross the highway last night brought me back to what's real. Love is all that matters. Everything else is noise.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day

To all fathers, enjoy your day. Honor yourselves.

To those of you who have fathers, appreciate them while you still have them.

To Frank, my birthfather, thank you for bringing me into the world.

Daddy, I miss you terribly. Rest in peace.

(As soon as I posted this, the sky started crying profusely. A late-spring thunder shower against the backdrop of a rising sun. An enthralling scene. God beating the devil, you used to say. I say you knew my vegetable garden needed watering. Thanks, Daddy. In a few weeks, I'll cook a pot of collard greens just for you.)

Daddy's Boy

In loving memory of my father

ISAIAH JEREMIAH Lamentations Ezekiel Gates awakens at 4:46 a.m. when he hears footsteps and the peculiar noise of gurgling water rushing from the kitchen faucet. Soon, the aroma of hot water washing coffee grounds tiptoes under the bedroom door and kisses his nose.

Good morning, Daddy, he thinks. The crisp sounds of cereal crackling against porcelain and glass catching ice arouse him.

He can almost feel the steam from the percolate gliding down the frosty window over the sink; almost taste the burnt-brown bread springing up out of the toaster.

Every weekday, without fail, Emanuel "Iron" Gates woke up the house before the sun seeped into the deep indigo sky. Uniformed in a gray shirt with “Iron Gates” embroidered in red thread above the left chest pocket, navy blue pants and black round-toed shows, Iron went off to the brewery. Never late. Hadn’t missed a day in over twenty years. Proud to provide for his better half, girl and boy. So proud. The kind of pride that jumped out of his voice after parent-teacher day at Isaiah’s school.

"Son, your teachers say you sure are gifted. You can write your own ticket someday. Do anything you put your mind to. Don’t ever settle for second-best. I love you, my one-and-only son."

Barely hearing Iron’s shoes descend the hall stairs and the back-door lock click, Isaiah turns over, curls both knees to his chest, and smiles his way back to sleep.
Like a tape, Iron’s words rewind over and over in Isaiah’s head as he lies under the darkness.

Daddy really loves me, he thinks, and wants the best for me. He wants me to succeed and I will. I’ll do anything to make him proud now and always

Isaiah picked up the phone on the fourth ring. "I’m all settled in at my hotel. For cryin out loud, I got in earlier that I thought. That musta been one helluva jet stream. I’m looking forward to that rib place you been talkin bout for lunch tomorrow, but is there any chance you’d go out with me tonight as well, or am I pushing it?"

"Well, I don’t see why not. My rehearsal tonight was canceled, so I’ve go no plans.
I been wantin to check out the jazz scene out here. We should go on over to this little place I read about in my Downbeat Magazine on the way in. Wally’s is the name. You been there before?"

Jazzed remained one of Iron’s strongest passions. An avid record collector for more than forty years, he boasted a couple thousand albums arranged alphabetically on some big shelves he built in the basement when his Isaiah was seven.

When Iron used to entertain his friends, Isaiah would feel the floor pulsate with the driving beats of Weather Report, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, or the Modern Jazz Quartet, among others. Iron’s wife, Pearl E., who considered listening to any music except gospel music, a sin worthy of fire and brimstone, would yell, "Tell your father to turn that bass down," as she nearly bounced off the couch in the front room trying to take her naps.

"Not in a while, but the local musicians are good and it’s a pretty laid-back crowd," Isaiah finally responded. Actually, he was there just last weekend, but he couldn’t let his father know that he, too, had developed a need for the music, pretending to dislike jazz simply because Iron worshipped it.

"We can relax, have a brew and get a head start on all the catchin up we gotta do. Whatcha say?"

Isaiah could hear Iron smile through the phone. Although he hadn’t spoken with his father about anything more than the weather in nearly two years, he reluctantly obliged.

"I need to study a few scenes and grab a bite. I’ll come by around nine. We can walk over from there; it’s not that far from your hotel."

Isaiah grabbed his cigarettes, lit one of the last few, and took a long, deep drag. I swore I was going to quit this habit today, he thought. I’ve already made some big changes for the better, so I guess I have to let myself off the hook and wait a little longer. Cold turkey. Besides this visit with Dad is going to really work my nerves, so tonight might not be the best time. Not now.

Isaiah put on Shirley Horn’s Here’s to Life, took a Tupperware container out of the refrigerator and threw it in the microwave. Red beans and rice. Mama’s recipe. He cooked a big pot last week because he knew he’d be too busy this week to cook every night and eating out was not an option.

Isaiah was relieved it was the end of the batch because if he had to eat one more helping, he might turn into red-brown mush and the freezer was already stocked with chicken soup for days.

It was a season for forgetting. Isaiah’s body drove the past deep into the obscure reaches of his mind. While eating dinner, he stared up at the Jacob Lawrence print hanging above the alcove table. He loved expressionist art and someday intended to paint watercolors as he had in the seventh grade.

Matted newspaper clippings containing the critics’ praise for his work at the Boston Center for the Arts caught his eye from the wall above the stereo. Such praise drew attention from producers and directors alike. No stranger to the encouragement and support of those he had worked hard to impress, Isaiah depended on the approval of others to sustain him, chasing parts and projects and if driven by insatiable hunger. He was writing a play, waiting tables overtime at the Charles Hotel, and had just finished a successful run in a popular biblical burlesque comedy based on Purim as told in the Book of Esther.

Although his schedule could hardly afford it, Isaiah made time to visit Little J.B. Underwood in Roxbury every weekend, if only to see the child’s eyes sparkle when he saw his Big Brother coming to take him out to play.

His incessant activity drowned the eternal yearning for something that forever eluded Isaiah; he knew it was there, as close and constant as his own breathing. But this was the season for forgetting—for forgetting how loudly his heart rattled in its cage. He would claw at anything to stop that noise.

The phone rang. Isaiah let the machine take the call. When he heard Thomas’s voice, he lunged across the living room, tripped over his makeshift cocktail, and snatched up the phone, catching his breath.

"Hey, brother, how you doing?"

"Just got in from work. These folk are working me like a slave. What about you? Your father get in yet?"

"I talked to him a little while ago. We’re going to Wally’s later on to talk, but I don’t think I can handle a face-to-face with him just yet. I don’t know why I agreed to go."

"Because your heart told you to. You better trust it, baby. I know you and your Father haven’t been tight for a long time, but you said you wanted to get closer to him. Now’s the chance. He’s your blood. What’s the worse that could go down?"

"Actually, he’s not my blood."


"I thought you knew I was adopted."

"I guess I forgot."

"It’s okay; that really has nothing to do with this anyway. We just don’t see eye to eye and I don’t want to make a scene."

"It’s not going to go down like that. Spirit is thicker than blood, and I know he’s your spirit. It may be rough, but you’ll hang tough. Everything’ll be cool. Where’s your faith? I got to be up early in the morning, so I’ll be asleep by the time you get back. But if you need to call, you know I’m here for you. I’ll send a prayer up for you."

"Lord knows I need it." Isaiah paused and carried his dishes into the kitchen. "Thomas?"


"Oh … nevermind. Talk to you later."

The clock read 9:30 p.m. Already? Where did the time go? Isaiah put on his khaki flight jacket, a black beret, grabbed his green wool scarf off the coat rack and headed out the door. He stepped into the corner store. "Camel lights, please."

The black woman behind the counter wrinkled her brow. "Young man, I thought I sold you your last pack yesterday."

"Maybe tomorrow."

The crisp, cool evening air chilled Isaiah’s face. A teardrop gently caressed his left cheek. Christmas lights adorned storefronts and apartment windows throughout the city. The John Hancock tower glistened against the starry sky. It was a night for holding hands, for painting postcards, for revisiting the past.

When Isaiah arrived at the hotel, he paused with a hesitation so powerful it drew the attention of passersby. Why prolong the separation any further? Isaiah genuinely missed his father. But fear crept over his body, stealing away reason.

Breathing so heavily the fog funneling from his mouth blurred the insignia over the entryway, Isaiah lifted his face to the heavens, let out a deep sigh and listened for the faint echo of Thomas’s comfort in his head: everything’ll be cool, everything’ll be co…

"Is that you, son?" Iron said, hearing a timid knock on the door.

Iron hadn’t aged much since the last time Isaiah saw him. His solemn face wore the same bags under the eyes, the same receding hairline, the same droop beneath the jawbone. Although a few more age spots crept down his forehead before the gray-blue waves of hair, his face bore no wrinkles, not even a distinguished laugh line. For a man in his seventies, Iron looked exceptionally well.

"Lemme put in my eye drops so I can get a good look at you." Iron moved tentatively toward Isaiah. Avoiding an embrace, Isaiah suggested they head right over to the club.

They arrived at Wally’s just in time to avoid the line that formed immediately behind them, as if they were the main attraction. As Isaiah reached into his back pocket to retrieve his wallet for the six-dollar cover, the burly man standing in front of the door announced, "I need to see some ID, boy."

Boy? Isaiah thought. What kinda sh... Boy. This mess is tired. Who does he think he is? Boy. It ain’t 1796. I ain’t nobody’s slave, driver, or butler. I’m a grown man perfectly capable of taking care of...Boy. And comin from a brother, too. He oughtta know better. I swear, if Dad wasn’t here, I would haul off and kick his, buck-toothed, disfigured—

"Sir, this is a father-son affair." Iron interrupted Isaiah’s internal tirade. Eyebrows lifted, chin held high, Iron gazed, unflinching, directly into the man’s eyes, a twenty-dollar bill dangling from his outstretched hand. Isaiah saw his breath and felt his fists unclench. The pitch of Iron’s voice and his confident, yet condescending expression reminded Isaiah of the many faces Iron wore during his arguments with Old Man Jenkins from down the street over a plethora of topics about which Iron knew nothing. Nothing. But he had the full-fledged routine down pat. He churned out data so fast and with such conviction, Old Man Jenkins could do nothing except concede. Without another word, the doorman handed Iron his change, moved aside and let them enter.

The aroma of victuals from early evening’s happy-hour fare still lurked amidst the smoke in the crowded room. The music’s electricity danced over and carried them into the party. The entire room and everything therein throbbed in time to the bass and drum rhythm. Ice cubes struck notes on tumblers and stemware in tune with the cascading, rainfall tinkle from the piano. Tenor-saxophone riffs wailed measure after measure in call-and-response with the vibrato of laughter from a woman sitting at the bar. Piercing laughter. A mama’s-talking-on-the-phone kind of laughter. The joint was jumpin.

Iron led Isaiah over to an empty table near the stage corner. Before they removed their coats, a waitress sped over to take their drink order. Brandy straight-up and a draft beer back. Thank you Ma’am.

"I’ll have soda water with lime, please," said Isaiah, the drop of acid in his voice directed more toward Iron than toward the waitress. When they sat down, Isaiah lit a cigarette.

"You still smoking."

"And you’re still drinking." Damn, Isaiah thought, that’s getting us off to a good start. He could hear Mama’s mantra, Your smart mouth is gon be your downfall someday, rippling about his head. "How are your eyes? I talked to Nella last week and she’s been worried about you."

"Well, you know how your sister is, worryin bout me way too much. My glaucoma is well under control. Last checkup, the doctor say the pressure’s gone down a few points. For cryin out loud, if these eye drops keep workin, I won’t need that laser surgery he been talkin bout."

That was good news. Isaiah certainly didn’t want his father to go blind. Unwilling to think of anything else to say, Isaiah absorbed the music and surveyed the room. The woman at the bar who was laughing when they came in was feeling awfully good now. Swaying to the music, she could barely keep her hips on the stool. A drunken man vying with himself for her affections became too eager. She tried to remove his hand from her waist, but he resisted. She stood up, hands-on-hip and with sharp neck jerks, still in time with the music, made her point as clear as the clarinet’s throat: "Get your hands offa me you drunken motherfu..."

With the music’s crescendo, the man raised his curled hand, shouted, You old siditty bitch, and struck her across the face. Twice.

The drama intensified as two bar backs restrained the man and dragged him away. And Isaiah went away—way back to bed that night when he was ten-years-old and Daddy dragged himself home at two a.m., woke him up, and ordered those dishes washed, dried and put away.

Mama! Tell Daddy to leave me alone!

What I say boy? You do as I say boy!

No! Mama!

What?! Boy!

Isaiah’s skin burned after Iron’s blow. It burned again and again...
"Stop it. Please, stop it!" Pearl E. finally intervened. Iron grew weary, stumbled into their bedroom and passed out.

"Thank you. We’re going to slow it down a bit for you now and play some blues. This one’s called Don’t Explain. Hope you enjoy it." The voice from the stage brought Isaiah back.

"You aawl right?" Iron slurred. Iron had seen this look on Isaiah’s face before, but he couldn’t let himself remember when. He threw back another shot of brandy.

"I just spaced out a little. This place is pretty intense, huh?"

"Better than I expected. Go on, man, blow your horn," Iron hollered toward the stage. He took a gulp of beer and turned back to Isaiah, touching him firmly on the shoulder to get his attention. "Now, looky here, whatcha plans? I’m talking bout plans. What kinda plans you got? You applyin to law school any time soon?"

Here we go again. "Law school’s out of the picture for a while. Actually, I don’t know if it’ll ever be in the picture again, Dad. For the time being, I like what I’m doing. I’m learning the craft, people are taking me seriously and I’m working on a new show. Didn’t you get the reviews I sent you of—"

"I don’t know nothin bout what you sent me. All them letters is too damn small for me to be reading anyhow."

"So what did you do, Dad? Throw them away?" He tried to fight back the heat stirring in his stomach, but he was losing the battle.

"What’s it matter to ya? For cryin out loud, you think you was sendin me a write up from the goddamn New York Times about some big court case you won that was gon make things better for our people. All that damn money spent at that uppity school wasted on your hard-headed nonsense. If only your mother—"

"Don’t you dare throw Mama up in my face," Isaiah shot back through gritted teeth. "And since you’re operating on so few brain cells as of late, let me remind you that that uppity school was all you seemed to be able to talk about to your friends after I got accepted."

"Don’t push me, kiddo. I’m still the father here, and I ain’t gone tolerate your backtalk." Iron looked away to get the waitress’s attention. "Look at me when I’m talkin to ya. A man’s gotta earn his place in the sun. You still tryin to get where I been, and you’ll be damn good and lucky if you make it this far. And what’s a man gon do when his luck runs out? I’m more’n seventy-years-old, got the scars to prove it, and I still gotta listen to the man upstairs. I knows what I’m talkin bout. Now looky here, don’t you think you should—"

"I’m doing fine."

"Don’t you raise your voice at me. You ain’t too old for me to.... Looky here, this actin or whatever it is you call yourself doin ain’t gon secure no future. You need to listen to your father, boy."

Isaiah winced. His heart raced. He felt every ounce of his blood rush into his throat and nourish the large clump there. Before he had a chance to think, to measure his next move, he jumped up, eyes bulging, and his voice blurted out: "This boy is a grown man perfectly capable of taking care of himself. This boy doesn’t need you or anybody else telling me what to do. Anybody. This is my life and my future, and I’m the only one who’ll decide how to live it. What I need is your support for my decisions. But what I don’t need, what I really don’t need is your unsolicited advice about what I should be doing. Got it?"

Isaiah threw some money on the table, grabbed his belongings, and moved for the door. Iron pursued him as quickly as he could. "Son. Wait. Don’t go like this. I’m sorry. Sit on back down here and lemme talk to you."

"Did you say—?"

"Yeah, I know, I said I’m sorry." Iron sat down hard in his chair, almost shaking the drinks off the table. The weight of forgetting shifted, the heat of remembrance rose up through the smoke like an offering. "Now looky here. You’re right. You all grown-up and I shouldn’t be tellin you what to do, but you just don’t listen." He motioned to continue, but stopped and reached down. The moment, heavy as the shroud covering his heart, hung over the rim of the shot glass for what seemed like eternity. "I just want you to be happy."

"I am happy." Isaiah took a sip of water. "Are you?"

The dissonant languor of the blues meandered by and colored Iron’s face. "You know, son, your mother and me, we did the best we could. But life’s short and unexpected things happen. I hate what’s happened to us. But lemme say…well…if there’s anything. If there’s anything I"—this time, Iron let himself to remember that night, and many more like it—"if there’s anything I ever did wrong to you. Well. Lemme just ask ya one thing. Look at me."

Isaiah turned and looked into Iron’s bloodshot eyes.

"Son. Please. Forgive me."

This will take more willpower, or want power, or whatever-kind-of power than it’ll take to stop these nasty cigarettes. But this he must do. He had to. Across from Isaiah a phantom transformed into a pillar right in front of his eyes. Across from Isaiah sat the man who taught him about discipline, respect, honor, dignity. About how to rise up after being knocked down. How to dream great dreams. How to love. To live. The only father he ever had, the only father he’d ever have. And deep within, beneath the layers of fear, resentment, anger, contempt—somewhere beneath his navel—he knew this man was the only father he ever wanted.

Through clouded eyes, Isaiah could’ve sworn he saw the tiny droplet of water that had collected in the far corner of Iron’s left eye trickle down his cheek. "I love you, Daddy," Isaiah whispered. Iron almost had to read his lips. But Iron didn’t mind. He had so firmly memorized the memory of the look in his ten-year-old son’s eyes the last time he saw those words, he knew what Isaiah was going to say before his lips moved at all.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

April in Maine

A FEW MONTHS AGO, my in-laws visited from the Netherlands. Here are a few (and when I say few, I mean a few. They took pictures like crazy) photographs of Maine in spring and their time with us.

Camden, Maine

Sunday River - Bethel, Maine

Belfast, Maine

Boothbay Harbor, Maine

Ma, hubby, and Wilma in Portland, Maine.

Frans, Wilma's hubby, and Job at Barnes & Noble cafe while Ma and Wilma shop for scrapbook supplies.

Wilma and I at dinner on their last night. Yeah, I stole Job's shirt for the evening. Ha.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Green Is The New Black

PROOF postive that people can make a difference.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

This House Is Not Her Home

Justine Henin d. Serena Williams 6-4, 6-3

ANY REGULAR reader in these parts knows I'm not happy about this result. But I can live with it. Justine Henin wins the quarfinal match at the French Open in straight sets. Nothing new there. I was startled, however, by Serena's lack of fire and her apparent resignation in the final game of the match. 6-4, 6-3? Who'd have thunk it? No tiebreaks? No third-set drama? What a letdown.

Where was that... prance, sistergirl?

Perhaps that wild bear your father said you were up for attacked you last night and sapped all your strength. Yours was a foolish display of tennis today. So what clay isn't your surface but you can still win on it. But those slices and dropshots aren't your forte. And they didn't work. Yet, you kept going for them. Were you trying not to upset the crowd? Were you trying to out-finesse Justine, who was blasting the ball deeper and harder than you? Did glare in cap get up in your head?

Who was that haint in the purple sports bra and the hot pink dress on court today? Please, let a brother know when you get back.

Oh, well. At least the WTA's best rivalry just got more interesting.

I need to take a walk.

Monday, June 04, 2007

On Integrity

INTEGRITY is how we manifest our divinity. It's a big deal to me when people reveal that they have none, whether it's on a tennis court or at the corner store.