Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Supporting Cast Part 3: "Levelheaded Lisa"

When I started this blog, my intention was to write humorous anecdotes and stories about my life, to include tales of my family members. I believe (Please correct me if I’m wrong…on 2nd thought, keep it to yourself!) I have been able to inject a little humor in my previous posts, but now, the telling of my sister Lisa challenges me. The challenge is, I can’t think of many truly humorous events to share about my sister. It’s not that she’s not funny, because she’s had her funny moments. The thing is, when I think about Lisa and what she’s meant in my life the words “rock steady”, “dependable”, “supportive” and “encouraging” come to mind rather than any slapstick hijinx. Therefore, I will speak from this angle rather than a humorous one. If you find something in here that makes you laugh, well, that’s just gravy!

Lisa is three years senior to me, thus, the eldest of the four kids. She was first out of the shoot. A trailblazer. She paved the way for the rest of us. Lisa deserves the credit for many of the things that my two brothers and I were able to do for the simple fact that she softened up our parents for us. By the time we came along, Ma and Daddy were well broken in.

Lisa always seemed to be “in on” everything as if she were a member of the family’s management committee. For instance, she knew well in advance when we were going out somewhere whereas the rest of us found out when we got there! She even knew where the Christmas toys were hidden weeks before December 25th! Ma and Daddy made her privy to stuff because she was able to keep a secret. I think if I knew what the other kids were getting for Christmas, I’d be able to sit on it for perhaps a few hours…a day at the most; then it was “See, that’s why I know what you’re getting for Christmas and am not telling YOU!” Even as a kid, Lisa was trustworthy.

Lisa has always been very confident and “sure-footed” in my estimation. She’s a born leader. When she wants to do something, she does it. When she’s got something to say, she says it. She’s ALWAYS had a job. In fact, I believe she was recycling aluminum cans from the cradle! ß Gravy?? No? Well, fine then! It’s no surprise to me that she paid her way through college, helped support the family and started her own very successful accounting consultancy firm (see link at right for DeAnder & Associates, LLC). When I was in middle school, Lisa used some of her meager wages, earned at the People’s Drug Store, to buy us winter coats when money was tight. To be honest, I can’t say she did it without complaint because she did complain, but she did it just the same!

We, as kids in general, didn’t fight each other much. Whatever squabbles we did have were minor ones even for the 70’s. I can’t recall having a single fight with Lisa. The truth of the matter is, I’ve always looked up to and admired her and wouldn’t dream of hurting her.

Back in grade school, as with most kids, we had our little run-ins with other kids. As a family, we were well conditioned to “stick up” for each other away from the house. As the oldest, Lisa was charged with being the family enforcer. There were a few times when she had to step in and “take up” for us. One such time was the conflict with the dastardly Richardson Gang. OK, they weren’t a “gang” per se but there were three of ‘em and they were known to pick on other kids. The youngest, Martin, was my age, but was much bigger than I was then. In fact, they all were rather large for their age. Perhaps this is why they chose to pick on smaller kids. Now, I can’t recall how we got on their radar on this particular day. What I do know is my brother Mike and I were walking home after school and out of nowhere, the Richardsons! They started picking with us for no reason. I wanted no parts of them. I just wanted to get home and watch Ultraman! I remember trying to walk through the gate at the edge of the football field and one of the Richardsons was blocking my path. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was terrified! All of a sudden, Lisa stepped between the offending Richardson and me and basically backed him down. He was much bigger than she was and I don’t believe the Richardsons were above fighting a girl, but on this occasion, he sure backed down. After watching many episodes of “The Dog Whisperer”, I now know that Lisa exhibited what Cesar Milan calls “calm assertive dominance” over this Richardson. I call it the “Jedi Mind Trick” – “You don’t really want to beat my brother to a pulp! Move along!” I guess the old adage is true that says most bullies are cowards and if you stand up to him, the coward will flee. Of course, these days, if you stand up to a bully, there’s a good chance that you won’t be standing much longer. As I type this entry, I’m smiling to myself because I can just hear Lisa saying that she has no recollection of this. Well, that’s because it never happened. I made it all up! ß Just kidding. It did actually happen. She probably won’t remember it because, at the time, she probably didn’t see this event as worth remembering. She simply did, then, what she continues to do today: her duty.

I want to publicly thank my sister for being a girl and woman of character. She was never one of those women who dated a lot of dudes and never had a bad reputation. She went to school, went to work and dated the same guy throughout high school. I never had to deal with the shame of having a sister who was “well known” (in the biblical sense) in the neighborhood. In fact, in the neighborhood in which we lived, Lisa could have been called “The Untouchable”. Most of the guys would have loved to get next to her, but she simple never gave them the chance. It didn’t hurt that Daddy played the role of Old Yeller, rendering the guys too afraid to be a threat.

Lisa recently celebrated her 40th birthday. To commemorate this milestone, her husband, Pat, threw a huge bash and commissioned a video in which family, friends and loved ones recalled past experiences with Lisa, expressed their love and wished her well. I will repeat now what I said then on that video: There is no other woman in the world that I’d rather have as a sister. God knew what He was doing when He gave me her.

Friday, March 17, 2006


I went with my father to Shop-Rite liquor store on New Hampshire Ave in Langley Park, MD. While perusing the aisles and shelves of spirits (hooch), I spied (saw on the ground) an errant wallet on the ground that some unsuspecting patron had absentmindedly left behind. In my youthful glee, I screamed out,


Dad, being the quick-minded thinker that he was, quickly bottled up my excitement as not to alert some other passerby to the treasure laying not 10 feet away. We quickly, but nonchalantly sauntered in that direction, looking this way and that, and dad instructed me to scoop it up. Ingenious maneuver as constables are reluctant to fingerprint a child. In my eagerness to, ah, find out the rightful owner and return the wallet :), I commenced to yanking that joint open, but Dad, knowing the ways of the lawless, quickly tucked it away for viewing at a more opportune time and place. All the way home, I couldn't take my mind off of the massive amount of loot that had to be in the wallet. I mean, why have a wallet if it's not full of cash? When we got home, my eyes were glued on Dad in anticipation of him opening the wallet and uncovering our newfound treasure. To my confusion, Dad sent me off to play. "Aah, playing it cool in case we were followed!", I thought. I went off to play in the back yard. A short while later, Dad called me in the house and handed me a wad of three dollar bills. I assumed it was the money from the wallet, snatched it out of his hand and awaited the arrival of the urban kids' best friend, ICE CREAM MAN! I was going to blow the whole wad on Bomb Pops, Push-Ups, Nowlatas (Now-&-Laters), Rock Creek Fruit punch soda and whatever else I could get. I was a happy kid that day.

One day, long after Dad has passed on and I was a dad myself, my thoughts returned to that wallet and questions started to plague me. Why didn't Dad want to open the wallet right away? Why didn't he say something like, "here's the money from the wallet"?

Though my opportunity to ask Dad about it while he was still with us is long gone, I began to piece together my theory based on my recollections of the events of that day and Dad's character and love for me.

He didn't want to open the wallet in front of me because he knew I'd be disappointed if there was nothing inside. Therefore, he sent me away so he could look in private. There was probably no money in the wallet to begin with, but wanting to spare me that disappointment, Dad reached into his own pocket and pulled out an amount that, by my young standards then, was substantial. $3!!! He didn't say, "here's the money from the wallet" because that would've been a blatant lie <-- a terrible thing to teach your kid! All in all, Dad did what any loving parent, such as he was, would do and I love him and respect him even more for doing it!

Being the Christian that I am, I would take a found wallet to the store manager or something, but when a similar opportunity such as this arises where I can do the same for my kids, I'll surely take it! Rest assured that, when I've been called home to be with the Lord (oh happy day!) and I am reunited with my earthly father, I'll ask him all about it.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Clash of the Titans

NOTE: Names have been changed to protect the guilty!

I grew up a stone's throw from the grade school that we attended, Jesse LaSalle Elementary School. My parents, however, did not let us go up to the playground alone. That's where all the knuckleheads hung out. Instead, we played kickball, dodge ball, hide and seek, red light/green light (or “1-2-3 Red Light” as we called it), football and baseball in the alley behind my house. Home plate was a large crack in the pavement in the middle of the alley; first base was the connecting piece that joined two segments of the horizontal fence poles together; second base was a triangular-shaped tar spot in the middle of the alley and third base was the larger of two fence posts just opposite first base. We played with plastic bats and wiffle balls or tennis balls and no gloves.

On one particular day, we were playing baseball in the alley. It was late in the afternoon so, the heat of the summer sun had subsided a great deal and had begun to retreat from the sky as it bowed out of sight behind the row of houses on my block.

In the middle of our game, Maria (name changed to protect the guilty) and her sisters, the evil brood, casually strolled around the corner into our playing field. we were forced to stop and wait as they meandered along. obviously, they were trying to mess up our game. As they FINALLY made their way out of the field of play, a member of our neighborhood crew (we’ll call him Andy), uttered words that he would later regret allowing to pass his lips.

"Slow walkers!", Andy said as an after thought as he returned his attention to the game at hand. This caused the interlopers to stop and engage whomever it was that opened their mouths.

"Whatchu say, boy?!", was the response. I knew immediately that trouble was a-brewing.

Andy was a very likable kid. He was youngest of his family, which included a brother and sister who were our age and two much adult brothers. Andy was most known for his habit of easing up to whomever had the cookies, chips or candy (Most times, the candy was Now & Laters, pronounced Nowlatas.) and whispering “Can I have some?” in such a way as to convey that he was hungry, but falling short of alerting everyone of the presence of food. I guess he thought if everyone knew about the snack, they’d all ask and ruin it for everybody. Andy was the most outspoken of his amazing fact when you consider that one thing Andy was not was a fighter. he'd open his mouth, start some commotion and then high-tail it to the safety of his home.

Maria, the oldest of the crew and at least five years older than I was at the time, purposefully walked toward Andy. With each step that she took, her eyes got more I’m-gonna-beat-your-butt-like and Andy's eyes got more Lord-what-have-I-done-like.

"I'm gonna slap the black off you, boy!", said Maria.

In place of any verbal response from Andy was the chirping chorus of crickets. He was too busy looking at the ground and planning his escape to prepare an acceptable retort. Meanwhile, standing a scant ten feet away was Andy's sister. she was also noticeably silent. In other words, neither Andy nor his sister wanted any parts of Maria! We all stood there as these events unfolded. I remember feeling sorry for Andy and sister. Before I could really embrace my feelings of pity, the silence was shattered by the resounding sound of Maria's palm bouncing off of Andy's face. This sound was immediately followed by the sounds of Andy crying. That sound was immediately followed by the sounds of Andy's feet taking him home quick, fast and in a hurry. His sister was right behind him.

"You better run! Don't let me catch you on the street again!", hollered Maria through a combination scowl and smirk. – wanting to be intimidating, while at the same time, being very pleased with her handiwork.

With that, she turned and crossed Kennedy Street towards her house. When they reached the other side of the street, Maria's little sister (whose name i never knew so, i'll just call her Maria's little sister) threw a D-sized battery across the street towards us as if to add an exclamation point to the assault that had just taken place. I’m not sure if she found that battery on the street or she just carried them around to use to break up random baseball games. Already angered by the way they embarrassed my friend (and forgetting the fact that my brother, sister and I engaged in a yearly fight with Andy and his kin), the whole battery thing set me off. There’s just so much a man (or boy) is willing to take! I picked up that battery and launched it back at Maria's little sister. predictably, the crew stopped and made their way back across the street. This time, they wouldn't be facing an adversary who was unable and unwilling to stand up for himself. I was ready and willing to do battle. I was prepared to stand up for myself, for our retreated friends and for the honor of our alley and the baseball game held therein.

I could literally hear my heart pounding as i braced myself to "handle my bizness". before Maria violated my personal space, i managed to swallow my heart. Thank God it knew to take a left into my chest rather than proceed to my stomach! Who knows what kind of heartburn that would've caused!

so there we were, nose to forehead. You see, Maria was a good six inches taller than I was then. I gained a measure of confidence by the fact that Maria didn't launch into immediate attack mode on me as she had on poor, poor Andy. I wasn't so confident, however, to initiate the attack. Rather, we just stood there, glaring at each other.

Finally, the thirst for blood and the hunger for action got the best of Maria's little sister so she decided to speed things along. She grabbed Maria's hand and lightly touched my arm with it. Not wanting to be punked, i sent return fire by lightly tapping Maria's arm. With the speed of a lioness pouncing on an unsuspecting wildebeast, Maria sprung into action! As soon as the very tip of a hair on my hand came into contact with her skin, Maria had her left hand on my throat and was swinging wildly with her right. obviously, she had done this before. the heat of this strike burned away any fear or reservations that i may have felt. I was mad then! It was ON!

i cocked back with my right hand and pushed my little fist past her nose, through her face and towards the nether regions of the universe...or so it felt to me at the time. Maria, undaunted, continued her quantity-over-quality attack. I feared that the judges may have been swayed by Maria's sheer volume of punches and, fearing that the round was slipping away from me, stepped up my attack. I launched blow after blow and bounced right after right off Maria's forehead while my left hand tried to pry her claws off my throat!

I'm sure that the onlookers, both pro- and con-Milton were screaming and making a terrible fuss, but the only thing i could hear was my own heartbeat. i felt the adrenaline course through my 11-year-old body as the little voice in my head screamed "You're actually in a fight!".

I sensed that the tide was shifting in my favor and Maria's face echoed the same. Maria was starting to cry; trembling bottom lip and all! I had literally wiped the sneer off her face! just as i was basking in the glow of my victory and already spending the currency that is "street cred", everything came to a screeching halt.

"DEL (my nickname)! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! YOU KNOW YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO FIGHT A GIRL! GET BACK IN THIS YARD, BOY!", Daddy bellowed from the kitchen and throughout the entire neighborhood. His voice echoed off every house on the block and beyond. I’m sure there were “Dels” all over the city who ran in their yards at the hearing of Daddy’s command.

Just as quickly as this storm blew in, it had dissipated. now i had to explain to my father why i was fighting a girl.

Two things were accomplished on this day: Maria and her crew never interrupted our baseball game again and one more memory that will live forever in the family lore was created.

I can’t recall ever seeing Maria again. My guess is that she packed up her stuff and left town. Yeah, that’s it. I did, however, run into Maria’s little sister the very next fall at a Glee Club (our school’s choral group) rehearsal at school. I was forced to sit next to her during rehearsal. When we recognized each other, our little minds flashed back to the “Fight of the Century”…or “Fight of that Tuesday”, can’t remember which. We shared a smile and that was the end of the conflict. You see, I’ve never been one to hold a grudge. Though Maria never ventured onto our block again, if she had (after sufficient time had expired), I would’ve said “Hi” just to diffuse the animosity and let her know everything was cool.

By the way, if you run into Maria or her crew, don't listen to their side of the story. no doubt they were emotionally unprepared to handle such a crushing defeat at such tender ages and their recollection of the events would be compromised. :)

Monday, October 10, 2005

Like Pulling Teeth

You know, I could sit all day and think long and hard and never come up with any real complaints about my mother. That is, unless you consider the con game she pulled on us as kids when we had teeth that were ready to come out.

My mother knew that we wouldn't sit still long enough for her to pull our teeth out so she'd trick us into submitting to the "Great Tooth Robbery" by means of trickery.

"Come here and let me see that tooth,", she'd say.
"No! You're going to pull it out! It's going to hurt!", we'd whine.
"I'm not going to pull it out. I just want to see how loose it is.", she'd explain.

Just like the lambs being lead to slaughter, we'd draw closer with trepidation. Ma would wiggle the tooth a little and before we knew it, we had one less tooth to brush. With the swiftness of a Cobra, Ma would grasp that tooth and snatch it clean out!

There'd be no real pain, only the sting of being duped by your own mother! Each time we had a loose tooth, Ma would use this "Jedi Mind Trick" on us and we'd fall for it every time!

There were also times when Ma would use the "fear" angle. She'd tell us that the tooth HAD to come out right then or the new tooth would grow in upside down and each time we chewed our food, we'd bite ourselves. We'd give in every time! Ma would tie a string around the tooth and tell us to look away. One good yank and we were whistling Dixie!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Supporting Cast Part 2: Joan, the Kind-Hearted (aka "Go Outside And Get Me A Switch")

I once read that God created Mothers (and Grandmothers) because He wasn’t able to be everywhere at once and the Mothers basically doled out His blessings in His absence. If you overlook the glaringly-false statements about God not being able to be everywhere and that He actually needs our help to do His work, you find a kernel of truth: God can and does bless us through others and many, many times, these “others” are mothers. <--Hey, I made a funny! No one loves you like your Momma does! My Momma (we call her “Ma”) is just that kind of mother.

My mother is perhaps the sweetest, kindest woman that you’ll ever meet. No, she wasn’t the “Neighborhood Mom” who kept all the kids around the way stocked in cookies and Kool-Aid, nor did she go about her daily household duties in heels and a string of pearls (sorry Mrs. Cleaver). She was (and is), however, willing to do anything for her kids and has done so on many, many occasions.

When my sister Lisa was born, Ma went on maternity leave from her job with the Federal Government. When it was time to return to work, she dutifully did so for a short time, but eventually left her paying gig for a much tougher assignment: raising us. For eleven years, we had Ma at home with us. She was there putting breakfast on the table, seeing us off to school and welcoming us home in the afternoon. Since we lived literally two blocks from school, we were able to come home for lunch often. Yep, Ma would have our peanut butter and jelly, soup or tuna sandwiches ready when we walked through the door. We’d eat lunch while telling Ma what we had learned that morning or what happened during recess. Then, we’d scurry back to school while the “return to school” signal buzzed over the loudspeaker in the distance.

On cold days, Ma would pile on layer upon layer of sweaters, coats, hats, mittens (which were pinned to our coat sleeves) and galoshes (that’s rubber boots for the uninformed). I recall many a cold rainy day when we’d come home from school soaking wet. Ma would peel off the wet clothes and make us take a hot bath.

Many times when we’d come home for lunch, Ma would be doing the laundry. In the basement, the floor would be covered with piles and piles of dirty clothes, which had been separated by color. Ma would feed one pile of clothes to the washing machine while rescuing another from the dryer. The TV would be tuned into the Soaps. Between dramatic scenes in those fictional towns, there was always a commercial for some wonder product that would revolutionize life for stay-at-home-moms. I can vividly recall a commercial for Cheer (that’s All Temper-Cheer) laundry detergent. It’s funny what you remember.

On other occasions when Ma would be doing the laundry when we got home from school for the day, we’d use the piles of clothes in our imaginary games. They’d be mountains that we’d maneuver our matchbox cars around or that we’d fly our paper airplanes over. Back in those days, most toys were imagination-powered and not battery-operated. You really HAD to use your imagination. But I digress. Where was I? Oh, yes, Ma.

As we spent the majority of our day with Ma, she was the lead disciplinarian. Yep, if you acted up, you got dealt with. Ma was one of those mothers who’d send us outside to pick the switch that would be used to keep us in line. Ma would say, “The older you get, the worse you get. Go outside and get me a switch and you better get a good one!” If we brought back a switch that was too thick (those didn’t deliver the “sting” that painfully resonated up and down your leg), Ma would pick out a good one and we’d get an even worse whipping. Once she was properly armed, Ma would commence to doling out her own brand of punishment. Getting a whipping in itself was bad enough, but Ma would “preach” to us at the same time. She’d synchronize her verbal attack with the switching for maximum effect.

Our ears would hear: “Now…didn’t…I…tell…you…not…to…do…that?”, while our legs would feel: whap… whap… whap… whap… whap… whap… whap… whap… whap.

This approach proved to be very effective. Often times, we’d instinctively try to get out of range of the switch while holding out our hand to deflect the blow, but Ma would be moving right along with us. I recall many a time Ma would whip us around and around the dining room table. These whippings only lasted a few seconds, but they seemed to go on for days!

Perhaps by today’s standards, where a parent can do hard time for raising their voice to their child in public, this may seem harsh. Not so. It was exactly what we needed. Also, Ma tailored her punishment to the crime committed. If you were guilty of writing on the wall with your Burnt Siena crayon, you’d have to go to your room “until you’re ready to act right”. Cross the street by yourself and you’d get the switch, no question. I can say without doubt or reservation that, aside from God’s grace, these whippings and other forms of punishment are what kept us out of reform school, jail and off the street corner.

Those who know me are aware of the fact that I love the cinema (that means “movies”, man!). I’ve spent many hours in the movie theater or in front of a TV watching movies. In fact, I actually worked in Hollywood for a couple of years, due to my love of film. I give Ma the credit for this love.

You have to understand, Ma LOVES old movies (even more so than “The Andy Griffith Show” when Ernest T. Bass guest starred). The older and more black-and-white, the better. Back in the day before cable TV, you’d have to stay up late to see an old movie. Many times, on weekends or whenever there was no school, Ma would ask, “who’s gonna stay up and watch ‘Imitation of Life’ with me?” I would always volunteer. At first, I watched the movies just to be able to stay up late. As time went on, I really got into the movies. Eventually, I’d be the one to initiate watching an old movie. That was our thing – Ma’s and mine. Our time for bonding.

I remember the time Ma and I watched “Midnight Cowboy” together. This particular time was my first time seeing the film and Ma’s one hundred first. Dustin Hoffman played Rico Rizzo – the homeless con man with the characteristic limp who befriends Joe Buck, the naïve cowboy (played by Jon Voight) who heads to the big city to make it big as a “kept man”. This is an excellent movie. After watching this movie, Ma would regularly ask me to do my imitation of Rico Rizzo's walk. I’d get up and walk with sort of a high-speed “pimp” in an attempt to mimic the character from the movie. There are few things that are more personal than sharing a private joke.

Like most African American women (I guess most), Ma would sleep with rollers in her hair, held in place by a scarf. Each night just before bed, Ma would spread out her scarf full of rollers on her bed and commence to rolling up her hair. I'd sit there with Ma while she did that and we'd talk about whatever. While Ma rolled and I talked, I used to take the rollers and stick one on the end of each finger and pretned they were claws. When all the rollers on the scarf were put into use, Ma would snatch them off my fingers, one-at-a-time until they were all gone. This happened every night.

Important point ahead! Don't miss it!-->It's very important that we parents take the time to talk to our children, spend time with them and bond with them. Don't allow your own pursuits (TV, the game, XBOX, etc.) to rob your children of something that's vital to their growth and development: YOU! Make a point each day to talk with your kids or, even better, have your kids talk to you. Let them express themselves. Children need attention and affection and it's best that they get it from their parents. If they don't get it from you, they'll seek it from someone else.<--Important point! Hope you didn't miss it!

These experiences, and hundreds of others just like it, helped me to strengthen the unshakable bond that Ma and I have today. Today, it’s not often that a day goes by without me calling Ma up to see how her day is going. I need that “check in call” and I’ll bet Ma will say she needs it also.

OK, this entry is developing into a manuscript, but this is a testament to how much I have to say about my Mother. I’ll wrap this up, but not until I share one more “Ma” anecdote.

Ma was born and raised in Troy, VA. The country. She moved to DC as a teen, but she still clings to her country upbringing. I’m going to ask that you remember this as I tell you that the majority of my childhood was spent trying to convince Ma to let us have a dog, a cat, hamsters, chameleons, tropical fish, etc. I never quite understood how someone could grow up in the country and not like animals!

One summer, while playing in the alley near my house, my friends and I discovered a litter of kittens that was living in a stack of old tires. Few things are more appealing to a young boy than a kitten or a puppy. Try as we might, we couldn’t catch the kittens. I realized that we needed to change our strategy so, I ran home and got Daddy’s fishing net. I just knew we’d be able to catch a kitten with that. NOT! After several admirable attempts, we walked away kitten-less and dejected. Of course, I forgot all about it when I heard my mother call us in for dinner. The next day, Mr. Gilmore, an older gentleman who lived across the street, summoned me over. I wondered why he wanted to see me. With the exception of “hello”, we’d never really exchanged words. As it turns out, Mr. Gilmore saw us trying to catch the kittens in the alley behind his house and he went out and caught one for me. Imagine the smile on my face! You could’ve put a whole pizza in my mouth without touching the sides! I thanked Mr. Gilmore and ran home with my kitten firmly in hand.

Once I got to my own back yard, I realized that I hadn’t gotten the requisite permission to have a pet. Having made several failed attempts at introducing an animal into the family, I knew I’d need a good plan to be able to keep this kitten.

Ma’s argument against us having pets was three-fold: 1) animals stink; 2) animals are loud; 3) we’d lose interest in the animal and stop taking care of it.

After much thought, I devised a clever plan that was sure to work – I hoped!

I smuggled the kitten up to my bedroom and swore my brother Mike to secrecy. I placed the kitten inside this large barrel-like container that we used to store blankets. I kept the lid ajar because a dead cat makes a lousy pet. Everyday I brought food and water up to the kitten, closing the door tightly behind me. The kitten was free to roam the closed room while Ma was at work. Once she came home, it was back to solitary confinement. The real trick was masking the kitty litter smell. This wasn’t going to be easy as Ma, like most mothers, had a wolf-like sense of smell. I just made sure to take any new “deposits” outside before Ma had a chance to pick up the scent. After about three weeks of “Operation Keep a Kitten In The Room Without Ma Knowing” (that’s what I actually called it. I had t-shirts made up and everything!), I felt it was time to move into the final phase of the plan.

I casually approached Ma and started a conversation about why we couldn’t have pets. After getting Ma to repeat her reasons, I revealed to her that, unbeknownst to her, we had kept a kitten in the house under her very nose and she didn’t even know it. She didn’t smell the kitten; didn’t hear the kitten and, we did in fact take care of the kitten. In the end, Ma saw that we had her dead to rights and did the only thing she could do: she invoked the “Because I Said So” Clause!

Reason #4 why we aren’t allowed to have pets: because Ma said so. Just kidding. She let us keep the kitten.

I Love you Ma!

The End.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Operation Green Machine

OK, I know in my last post, I said I’d continue with “Supporting Cast Part 2: Joan, the Kind-Hearted (aka "Go Outside And Get Me A Switch")”, but I decided to tell a story featuring my father before moving on. Going forward, each family bio will be immediately followed by a story about that individual…unless I change my mind again. It’s my thang y’all!

It was great growing up in the 70’s. That decade held all kinds of cool toys. I’m talking about toys that made you use your imagination. Toys that didn’t “do” anything. If the toy moved, you made it move. If there were sound effects, chances are the sound came from your mouth. No betteries needed here, folks. From Stretch Armstrong to Evel Knievel and Superfriends action figures to Matchbox Cars, we had them all! One of our favorite toys was the Green Machine.

“What’s a Green Machine”, you say?

Well, Madame, The Green Machine just happened to be a Big Wheel on steroids. As plastic vehicles went, it was the coolest, and way cooler than the Big Wheel. The body was kind of a light army man green with an adjustable seat. Like the Big Wheel, the Green Machine sported three plastic wheels: one large, narrow wheel in the front and two smaller, wider wheels in the rear. The best part was it incorporated a revolutionary new steering system. Instead of the run-of-the-mill steering wheel or plain-jane handlebars, you controlled the Green Machine using two stick shift style controllers. If you pulled the left shifter back, the right shifter would go forward and the vehicle would turn left.
One day, somebody left the Green Machine out in the yard (It was probably my brother Mike). While we were inside taking a breather from “rippin’ and runnin’” up and down the alley behind our house, someone came in and made off with our beloved toy! I can’t recall how we found out who took it, but we knew that Trouble and other knuckleheads in the neighborhood were the culprits.

Trouble was a kid who was around our age, but was much bigger and meaner. His given name was Trevor, but “Make sure you don’t get into any Trevor” just didn’t sound right so, it was changed to the more fitting name. He was known for terrorizing kids who were smaller than he. Trouble lived wayyy down at the very end of the alley, well beyond our parent-imposed boundary markers - the telephone poles. If you were to stand in the middle of the alley and look to the end, you could see the wooden fence of his yard. This seemed like a distant land because, at that time, we weren’t allowed to go that far down the alley.

While we agonized over the loss of our dear toy, almost simultaneously we all got the same idea: “Wait ‘til Daddy comes home!” We talked about how Daddy would kick their butts and take back our Green Machine. I wanted Daddy to come home at that instant, but it seemed like an eternity before we saw his silver chariot approach. At that time, the silver chariot was a silver Gremlin – GM that is. Yep, THAT Gremlin. More on that later.

Just as soon as Daddy was able to park the car in the yard and crack the door open, we were on him like spandex on a superhero, pelting him with a mish-mosh of overlapping run-on fragments that were our individual renditions of what took place, blurted out all at once and delivered at 90 mph.

“Daddy, Trouble stole the-“, “He came right in the yard and-“, “You gotta go and get it –“, “Michael probably left it—“, “AND KICK THEIR BUTTS!”.

Fortunatley, Daddy was able to glean the necessary facts from our grief-strickened plea.

When the smoke cleared, Daddy closed the car door, slowly turned around and strolled up to the house to say hello to my mother just as he did every day.

“Didn’t he hear what we said”, we thought. Somehow, Daddy didn’t seem to grasp the serious nature of the events that transpired. He didn’t act like it anyway.

Agonizing seconds ticked off the clock. And with each passing moment, anxiety mounted. After all, Trouble and the gang probably had some sort of toy chop shop operation going on in his yard that dispatched stolen parts to the far reaches of the city. Every second counted!

Finally, Daddy came out, walked past us and headed up the alley to restore truth, justice and the American Way to the neighborhood.

Daddy made his way down the alley with his deliberate and unmistakeable stride. We watched as he got smaller and smaller and disappeared behind the fence. Feelings of relief and excitement gave way to worry and fear.

“He shoulda been back by now!”
“What’s takng so long?!”
“He shoulda drove up there!” (Yeah, we knew that “driven” was the proper form of the verb drive, but who cares about grammar at a time like this?!)

All kinds of thoughts went through my head. I remember thinking maybe they all ganged up on Daddy or something. Before these thoughts took root in my mind…

“Here he comes!”

Yep, like the conquering hero that he was, Daddy made his way back dwn the alley with the Green Machine on his shoulder. He walked in the yard, set the toy down in front of us and said, “Ya’ll take better care of your toys,” like it was nothing!

That day, in my mind, Daddy’s stock rose 1,000 points! I don’t know what became of the Green Machine after that. We probably broke it up as we did most of our toys. What I do know is this story, and many like it, helped me to realize that Superman was real!

What a wonderful thing it is when your father puts on his cape and becomes your hero! I can’t wait to do the same for my kids!

The End.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Some background

I guess it would make sense to give you a little back story so you can get the full impact of my stories. So, here goes...


I am a 36 year-old Christian African American man who was born and raised in Washington, DC aka Chocolate City. I currently live just south of DC in suburban Maryland with my wife Michele and our 2-year-old, Cydney. We are a Christian family. That's important to say because it may save some folks a lot of time and trouble. This blog is and always will be G-Rated. No nonsense here! We're very active in our church. In fact, Michele and I are part of the leadership of our little church.

It all started: May of 1969 at Providence Hospital. Yep, that's when I made my grand entrance as the 2nd born of Joan and Milton Jr. That makes me Milton the third ("there are three of us and we're all good lookin'" - to borrow a few lyrics from Whodini). That first year of my life we lived in the Fort Chaplin apartments off of Benning Rd. NE, not far from the Shrimp Boat.

When my parents brought me home, Lisa (my older sister) was none to pleased. Up to that point, she was livin' large as the only child. Life was good having 100% of the attention. That was all shattered when I came to the roost! I have pictures of me in the crib with Lisa glaring down at me. You can almost see the daggers shooting from her eyes!

A year later, we loaded up the truck and moved to Riggs Park.

*Cue "The Jeffersons" theme**

We traded up from our little apartment to a three-bedroom, semi-detached brick home on Chillum Place. It was great growing up on Chillum Place. It was a nice, quiet block complete with an alley behind the house, which would be our playground. More on that later.

Ahhh, Proximity!

Our home was what you might call "centrally located". We were within walking distance of shopping (Giant Food, People's Drug (nka CVS), Crown Teaching Aids and Dobson's Barber Shop), schools (Jesse LaSalle Elementary and "Dirty" Bertie Backus Middle School) and transportation (A few years later, Fort Totten Subway station would emerge within a stone's throw). Each of those places would figure prominently in my life. Again, more on that later.

Supporting Cast Part 1: Who's Your Daddy?

Milton Jr. was my mother's husband, my father, my daddy, my pops and my Idol. In my mind, Daddy was the strongest, smartest, bravest man there was. He always had an answer and sage advice ready when I needed it most. He was also the bearer of "The Look". The Look was Daddy's chief tool of discipline. See, whenever we misbehaved or looked like we may have been thinking about possibly misbehaving, Daddy would give us this stare that said "DON'T...MAKE...ME...GET...UP!" Ten times out of ten, that was all we needed to be replanted on the path of righteousness.

Daddy stood about 6'1", in the neighborhood of 225lbs, had a light complexion with hazel eyes. It's also important to note that Daddy usually operated outside the laws of fashion. More on that later.

Daddy also always seemed to have a pocketful of change. I'm talking $30 or $40 worth of coins! This was our "Early Warning System" of impending doom. When we'd be sent to bed, whether as punishment or regular bedtime, we'd sometimes lay awake laughing and giggling. Daddy would hear us and issue Warning Number A: "Y'all go to bed now!" Normally, we'd quiet down for a minute or two and then the shenanigans (<---I said "shenanigans"! HA ha!) would start right back up. This prompted Warning Letter 2: "I said, go to bed! If I hear any more noise, I'm coming up there!" Most times, this put an end to chuckles for that night, but there were those rare moments when our "common sense" took a "common break" and we'd continue to cut up. This would be met with a full deployment! Instantly, you'd hear "CHING, CHING, CHING". You guessed it - all that change in Daddy's pockets that signaled to us that he was a man of his word and on the way up the steps! Now, there were twelve steps leading up from the first to the second floors (I know this, because for some strange reason, I always counted them as I went up or down the staircase). There were only three "CHINGS" because Daddy took four steps at a time! At the top of the steps, Daddy would kick in (really!) our bedroom door and, in one fluid motion, unsheathe his belt and commence to administering one whap of the belt each. Usually, we had blankets on us so, we wouldn't feel the actual sting of the belt, but the thought of Daddy unleashing on us "stung" enough. Well, that's background enough on Daddy, but rest assured that there will be plenty more entries about Daddy in the future. Next: Supporting Cast Part 2: Joan, the Kind-Hearted (aka "Go Outside And Get Me A Switch")