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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Oh, The Places You'll Go

Source:  Primus Collection
Dad as a teenager in his dress blues.

So Clifford returned home to his adopted state of Connecticut after his hometown visit with his family and James Huger. The nearest location to sign up to become a Marine is in Springfield, Massachusetts. He drew a mustache on his face to appear older. Springfield, Massachusetts is less than half an hour away by bus and is located on the Connecticut River. Springfield is known as "The City of Homes", and is the birthplace of Theodore Seuss Geisel. Children and grown ups everywhere know him as Dr. Seuss, and yes there is an actual Mulberry Street. Springfield has the real factory which is prominently featured in the Dr. Seuss' book on the environment, The Lorax.

Children's writer and cartoonist, Dr. Seuss

Do any of my readers watch basketball, specifically the NBA? Springfield, MA is the birthplace of basketball. A statue is dedicated to its creator, Joseph Naismith, in the Mason Hall neighborhood. The city is abuzz when a famous basketball player such as Michael Jordan is inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, housed in the same city of its birthplace.


Finally, Springfield shares an international airport with Hartford, CT, and Springfield at one time was bustling with factories as well. My mom stated that she traveled to Springfield frequently and our family used to attend religious conventions at the Civic Center. (It is called something else now, I believe the Mass Mutual Center)

 Springfield, MA is where my dad signed up to be a Marine Recruit. He was ready to serve his country and wanted to make history.

Today, if you ask him his rank and serial number, at age 89 he is still able to recite it upon request.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Person Who Influenced Dad's Decision In Joining The Marines

The fateful meeting with James Huger in Clifford Primus' hometown of  Daytona Beach, Florida obviously influenced the teenager. Even today, my father vividly described the six stripes up and six stripes down on Huger's uniform. James Huger, as my dad would say in his own parlance, "Is a heavy dude." Heavy meaning "serious and intense", for my English as a Second Language Readers.

Source: newsjournalonline.mycapture 

Mr. Huger credits two women for making a difference in his life:  His wife of 71 years, the late Phanye Huger, and Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. Dr. Bethune founded Historically Black Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida. She was also close friends with Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and was a leader in civil rights. I envision Phanye Huger as a very supportive and intelligent woman; she was a school principal who I am willing to bet impacted many lives.

 Source: vintageblackglamour
Dr Bethune and students at the college* she founded. 

James Huger moved to Daytona Beach, Florida from West Palm Beach, Florida. His father was a prominent minister who housed Dr. Bethune at the Huger home in West Palm Beach, as people of color could not stay in hotels. Later on, James Huger worked at Bethune Cookman and earned a degree in Business Administration from West Virginia State University. Bethune helped him get a job in the War Department, and he enlisted into the U.S. Marine Corps in 1941. 1941 was the year that the Marine Corps finally accepted African-Americans. The Marines were the last branch of the American armed forces to do so.

James Huger also served as general secretary for Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc., the nation's first Black fraternity and service organization, in 1939.  It was Huger and several of his Alpha brothers who years later went to fellow Alpha brother Dr. Martin Luther King's Miami trial. Mr. Huger and his friends "were shocked how King was treated by his own attorney." Dr. King's attorney  referred to his client as that boy. (Iinformation obtained by Daytona Times, April 6, 2012.) Huger and others assisted Dr. King financially. They raised significant amounts of money for the civil rights movement.

Huger was asked by Bethune to be in charge of the first UNCF (United Negro College Fund) for Bethune Cookman-College. To date, UNCF has raised more than 2 billion dollars to help a total of more than 350,000 students to attend college, more than any entity outside of the government. (Source:

If you were African American and were fortunate enough to go to college in the South during the first half of the 1900s, you went to a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). Higher institutions of learning did not accept African Americans, hence Black land grant and private intuitions were established. Most were established after the American Civil War and in the South except for two in the state of Pennsylvania and two in Ohio. Ohio and Pennsylvania prohibited slavery;  three of these Northern HBCUs were established before the Civil War.     (Source: U.S. Department of Education, 2008-01-17, White House Initiative on HBCUs)

What better person to get my father to enlist in the Marines than James Huger? A hometown hero, college graduate, officer, and a man of honor?

*White Hall, a building on Bethune-Cookman's campus, is listed in the National Registry of Historical Sites

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Special Day In American History

 Monday, January 21, 2013, marked a special day in American History. It was the second term of  America's first African American President, Barack Obama.  President Obama  used the same bible as civil rights icon, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for the Inaugural swearing in ceremony. Monday was also Dr. King's birthday, a federal holiday in the United States. I am quite sure the approximately four hundred Montford Point Marines watched the Inaugural Ceremonies with keen interest. The ceremonies lasted for hours, and Dad viewed the events with awe.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., March on Washington, 1963
This is where the Famous "I  Have A Dream Speech" was given.

Back in 2008, during President Obama's first campaign, Dad would  follow the broadcasts of MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News. He would call his older sister in Daytona who is well versed in politics. Sometimes during the first Presidential campaign Dad had to turn away from politics, because his blood pressure would get so high.  A classic Western would then be turned on and he would announce in his Southern with Northeastern twinged accent*, " I must have seen this movie about eighty times." All of his children would nod their heads, because we knew this to be true.


Dad is far from a "TV Couch Potato".  Like his brothers and sisters, he is a voracious reader. Our household had a set of World Book Encyclopedias. Every morning my father reads the Hartford Courant, the nation's oldest continuously published paper, and when it was around, the afternoon paper, which was The Hartford Times. There were other local newspapers, plus Newsweek, Time, and of course, VFW magazines. (Veterans of Foreign War). There were also some military books. Luckily for us in Windsor, CT we had a local branch of the public library fifty yards away.

 I never forgot that line from the HBO series, "The Wire", where an ancillary character (Brother Mouzone) asked, "You know what the most dangerous thing in America is, right?  A N----- with a library card." "The Wire" is a show that is studied in major universities across the country. It was written by newspaper journalists who actually knew the subject matter personally, since they were assigned the Baltimore, Maryland beat. It did not win major television awards, but "The Wire" is considered a cult classic.

 Education is something you cannot take away from an African American. It allows an individual to think and not accept the status quo. For these reasons that is why enslaved Africans were not allowed to be taught to read or congregate. Sadly, there are African Americans today who brag about never having read a book!


Back to the inauguration of President Obama. The Montford Point Marines were extremely grateful for the support that President Obama gave them in the quest for the Congressional Medal of Honor. They experienced similar hatred and discrimination as The Commander and Chief experiences while trying to serve our country.

 My dad spotted Tuskegee Airmen during the Inaugural parade. I informed dad that it took decades for people to know about their contributions. The  Hollywood picture "Red Tails" had to be financed personally by director/producer George Lucas, of "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" fame. Major motion studios did not want to touch the film, because they thought there was no market for films with all black casts. (Source: BBC News, Jan. 12, 2012)

It took over twenty three years for the film to come into fruition. Social media, the press, church groups, and fraternal organizations were at the forefront in filling those movie seats. I caught a showing of the film in a packed house opening weekend, and sure enough there were local Tuskegee Airmen talking to movie patrons with a display table of memorabilia.

Photo courtesy of  L. Ramos, J.D.

I watched the Inauguration with my best friend and her little cousin. The words were inspirational and I could  not help but notice how diverse the speakers were. There was an air of inclusiveness, so much so that little Ayana from Miami was enthralled by the ceremony. Ayana is only four years old and smart as a whip. A candid photo of her was sent to Channel 7 news in Miami, and on to New York media, Twitter and beyond. Ayana has her armed raised as if she was taking the oath of President. Because in America, little Ayana's dreams can be realized. We can never underestimate the power of the media and images.

* Dad often used Northeastern phrases such as "youse guys" and sometimes a Southern "ya'll";  meaning "you all". When upset Dad would use the phrase "you people".  Nevertheless, he
 always emphasized proper phone etiquette and formal business speech.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

"Dad Decides to Become A Marine"

Clifford Primus had earned a great salary at his position at a defense factory. He sent money home to his mother in Florida on a monthly basis. He enjoyed the less overt racist atmosphere in his newly adopted state of Connecticut, which in the 1940s was a predominately white state that had small concentrations of people of color. As a teenager, he was able to buy a nice wardrobe, party, listen to jazz and the blues, and make trips to New York City. He was what you considered a handsome man, and by his accounts, "had to beat the ladies off with a stick." At six feet tall he was the shortest of four boys. Clifford had abundant energy, and still is very smart, personable and popular.
During these times, some young, able-bodied males were doing everything in their power to avoid being drafted into World War II. Some went as far as even shooting themselves in the foot with a gun. The movie, "A League of Their Own" depicts one of the main character's husband doing this.Others would pretend that they had a mental illness or moral issues to avoid being drafted. Certain religions cannot participate in war, and their adherents would be considered "conscientious objectors". Two decades later Heavy weight boxing champ, Muhammad Ali, a member of the Nation of Islam, was banned from boxing for several years because he refused to register with the Selective Service* during the Vietnam War. His famous words were, "I ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcong!"


Chuck D, of the seminal hip hop group Public Enemy, rapped famously in the song, "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos":

I got a letter from the government the other day
I opened and read it it said they were suckers
They wanted me for their army or whatever
Picture me given a damn I said never
Here is a land that never gave a damn
About a brother like me and myself
Because they never did.

And also......

"They could not understand that I'm a Black man and I could never be a veteran."  Writers: Carlton Ridenhour,William Drayton, Hank Shocklee, Eric "Vietnam" Sadler.  (Def Jam Recordings, 1988)



However..... Blacks in the 1940s were trying to boldly enter institutions and seek admittance to organizations that did not want them. Negros wanted to prove to the world that they were just as capable of integrating major league baseball, staying at hotels, owning property, attending colleges, etc. The US Marines were the last branch of the Armed Forces that held out in accepting African Americans. So a test was instituted in seeking recruits, just like the army's use of Negro pilots with the Tuskegee Airmen, as portrayed in the movie "Red Tails" in 2012.


Little did Clifford know that a trip back home to Daytona Beach, Florida for a brief visit would forever change his life. He met an impressive man by the name of James Huger, who informed him that the US Marines were looking for bright African American college graduates. They could not find enough college grads so they then sought  intelligent high school graduates. James Huger, now 97, was a commissioned officer during WWII and later became a Daytona Beach City Commissioner and Volusia County Councilman.

Particularly in the south during these times racism was blatant.  Grown African American men were called "Boy" to their faces and never a respectful title such as" Mister" or "Sir". Dad made the conscious decision to sign up for the Marines.  He also made it clear that he wanted to serve in the combat division because he wanted to make history.

*Selective Service-Per Selective Service Government Guide:  All male US citizens and male aliens living in the US who are 18 through 25 are required to register. In times of military crisis, a random lottery and or year of birth determines who is drafted.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Connecticut, "The Land of Steady Habits"

 Before I share how Dad ended up a Montford Point Marine, I will give you more background on  Connecticut, "The Land of Steady Habits". Connecticut is a small state but an extremely productive state. Dutch navigator Adrien Block explored the Connecticut River in 1614. Then English settlers made the state a colony. The Charter Oak became a symbol of independence from England. The Connecticut Charter was written in 1687  but was revoked by English King James II. Joseph Wadsworth prevented Royal Governor Sir Edmund Andros from obtaining it by hiding it in the hollow of a Charter Oak tree. (Information derived from

Source: CT-State-tree-2-web
Charter Oak

CT is known for its manufacturing methods developed by inventors such as Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin. It is known for its production of helicopters; Sirkorsky, and jet aircraft engines; Pratt and Whitney. Some of my relatives from Florida came up north during summers or for an extended time for work after my dad settled in New England. One relocated from Florida permantly.


Furthermore, CT is also is known for small firearms, the Colt .45 and Colt's factory is now designated as a historical building. Small firearms are no longer made here, but like many abandoned factories it is used for housing and office space. I lived in one of its gigantic lofts for awhile. The famous Colt dome can be seen from Interstate 91 today.

The first American Cigars were made in CT. Tobacco farms figured prominently in CT and it was a "rite of passage" to work at either Thrall or Brown Tobacco, since they hired young teenagers. I was a "leafer", meaning I would set up large leaves on the tables for the sewers to sew on a rack. The racks would be sent elsewhere. The tobacco bus would arrive at 4 a.m. to pick teenagers up. We would leave in the mornings with our lunches and helmets and return later tired and dirty from tobacco dust. My brother picked tobacco leaves outside in the hot sun with the rest of the males.

Oh, and a young, personable young man from Atlanta, GA picked tobacco in Connecticut during his summers from a Black College. He attended church here and the experience forever changed him. His name was Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., a major Civil Rights Leader and activist who used peaceful demonstrations and marches to protest the treatment of African Americans in the United States. Dr. Martin Luther King is the only African American to have a federal holiday in his honor, during the month of January. He also received the Nobel Peace Prize. It would be three years later (1984) that I would be at an Atlanta College myself, and I would see Dr. King's sister as a professor and hear his cadence in the voice of his daughter, Dr. Bernice King who was two years ahead of me in school and became a minister like her father. Tragically, Dr. King was assassinated  April 4, 1968 at the age of 42 while standing on a balcony in Memphis, TN.


Whenever I would mention to former students that I picked tobacco, they would collectively gasp. Smoking did not have the stigma in the early 1980s as it does now. Anti-smoking campaigns were not launched until much later. Despite cigarette warnings detailing the dangers of smoking cigarettes, back then so many people smoked. It was addictive and unfortunately health problems developed. Smoking was permitted everywhere and the dangers of secondhand smoke were just starting to circulate.


Marines and other members of armed forces were routinely given cigarettes such as Lucky Strikes and Marlborough. My dad's cigarette brand was Pall Mall and he would smoke at least a pack a day. I remember filled ashtrays with cigarette butts all over the house. It was my job to empty the ashtrays and clean them. Dad tried real hard to quit smoking. One evening he vowed to quit smoking cigarettes and threw an entire pack in the fireplace. What allowed him to quit smoking for good? Acupuncture. His alternative medicine doctor recommended it and my skeptical dad gave it a try. Dad decided to test the effectiveness of the acupuncture by trying to smoke. He started coughing violently and tears streamed down his face. That was the last time he lit a cigarette, and that was over thirty years ago. The acupuncture saved him money for his costly cigarette habit and more importantly, his life.

The State of Connecticut formerly requested the countries of Puerto Rico and Jamaica for seasonal migrant tobacco workers during the 1940s and 1950s. Hartford has the second highest concentration of Puerto Ricans in the Northeast per 2010 US Census. Part of the large population of Puerto Ricans in Hartford is a result of this; Current mayor Pedro Segarra is of Puerto Rican descent. Moreover, Hartford also has the distinction of having the first African American female mayor of a major city, Carrie Saxon Perry (1987). Excuse me, the Honorable Carrie Saxon Perry as she graciously informed me, as I had included her character in a school play and had invited her for the performance.

Hartford has the third largest West Indian Population in the US after New York and Miami. Whenever I visited a Caribbean nation, I would always run into someone who had a relative from Hartford. The West Indians that I grew up with were very studious and hard-working. These children of immigrants used the strict British-Jamaican education from their country and dominated the honor rolls. Home ownership and additional property was highly valued, and if a student did not attend college they made sure they had a trade or two. The early nineties comedy show "In Living Color", depicted this best with a family that worked so many jobs and criticized people with only two jobs as being "lazy". The comic bit was a bit excessive, but yes, I had friends who worked their tails off like this.

Getting a job for my mom was a snap. I loved hearing her talk about the old days when she used to work at Hartford Fire, now known as The Hartford, or Connecticut General (CIGNA). She regaled us often with pleasant tales of the outspoken "The Wig Wearin' Woman". It was decades later when I learned the actual name of the "WWW"! She would begin with, "And the Wig Wearin' Women said...." Mom's last and major job was at the Department of Motor Vehicles. She would always state it without abbreviating it, never shortening it to DMV. ( Dad did something similar with AAA, sounding out every letter; it was never called Triple A.) She was known as a key-puncher. As an eight year old little girl, I had no idea what that was. What did that mean, she punched keys at work all day?


In the older days of computers, cards were used to read information and data. Computer operators fed cards into machines to punch holes into them. The punched holes represented computer language codes. Key punching machines were used before data entry terminals were introduced. Later, until mom retired, her job title became data entry operator. As an aside, computer bugs, were named after the actual computer bugs that became trapped in the large computers. Early computers were very large and occupied entire rooms. The computer operators would be cloaked in special gear because the machine was very temperamental.

My high school job besides working at McDonald's Playland as a birthday party hostess, was a summer internship Aetna Life and Casualty. Each summer, the various Insurance companies would recruit at Black Colleges in the south, and house the interns in Hartford. These interns were bored out of their minds and would ask me, "How do you stand it being from there?" I would acknowledged their collective pain but Hartford/Windsor was my home.

Hartford was once known as The Insurance Capital of The World and EVERYBODY knew someone that worked at an insurance company. Despite being a conservative type of industry, it gave Downtown Hartford " bustle", with men in tailored business suits and power ties and later women in business suits and heels (sneakers on lunch hour or for the commute). I also was employed at Traveler's Insurance Company, answering phone calls for auto and property claims. If it was a serious, major claim or accident, it was my job to contact an insurance adjuster to get to the scene immediately. I always had a problem contacting adjusters in New York. They seemed very bothered and would  ask, "What do you want me to do about it?", or "I am in the middle of something". I loved hearing their expressive, thick New Yawk  accents, knowing that they would end up arriving at the scene because that was their job. The logo for The Traveler's, the Red Umbrella, was everywhere. During rainy days, huge official Traveler's Red Umbrellas dotted Main Street and it was so uniquely Hartford.

Hence, the small, conservative city of Hartford was the place to be if you wanted employment. Additionally,  you could gather skills, obtain a college education, intern at the various insurance company headquarters in high school or college. Still, prospective job seekers could work at Electric Boat in Groton where they built submarines, Stanley Tools in New Britain or any of the various factories that existed in the state. People could quit work one day and have another job shortly thereafter. Finally, the southernmost part of the state is a suburb of New York City. Connecticut is a state that ranks among the top in  highest per capita income. This is where Clifford Primus spent the majority of his life. Connecticut was also the place where he received notification of his Congressional Medal of Honor as a Montford Point Marine, one winter day in February, 2012.

Now, let's travel back to the 1940s and away from civilian life to military life.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Dad's Arrival in Connecticut

As soon as my father arrived in Connecticut, his first objective was to find somewhere to stay. He had crossed the Mason-Dixie Line, the line that signified that he was no longer in the South. It was 1941. He did not have to sit in the rear of the bus, which was required below the Mason-Dixie Line. Can you imagine how thrilling that must be, to be finally free from racial segregation?

Source: Greyhound

The sense of independence and a new mission was overwhelming. Dad and his friend Columbus searched for a room to stay for a night before they could seek permanent lodging. They walked the streets of Downtown Hartford, where a Black doorman at a hotel surreptitiously told them, "Hey, these places are for whites only, you need to go somewhere else." The Negro doormen pointed them in the direction of the small colored community section in Hartford. So much for the end of segregation.


My Dad stated that upon disembarking the bus that they were people seeking factory workers. Hartford had Royal and Underwood Typewriter factories, plus other major manufacturing plants. Dad was so excited about getting a job at Hartford Machine Screw Company (Now Stanadyne, Inc.) that he worked as many hours as he could. He sent money back home to his mother, Lily Primus, whom as you will recall was a cook.

Clifford made so much money that his mother chided, "Now, son, I don't know what you are doing up there but I raised you to be a respectable man!" Grandma thought my father was doing something illegal! She had never seen that much money before and my father quickly surpassed the earnings of both of his parents. Dad earned 57 cents and hour and his father, a landscaper for a wealthy man as I mentioned ealier, earned 12 dollars a week. For the rest of my Grandmother's life, my father sent money to his mother.


Hartford Machine was  a company that was considered a defense plant. The factory was located in Windsor, CT, Connecticuts's first town. Windsor was established by English settlers from the Plymouth Colony in 1633.  It  is considered a suburb of Hartford, CT. Of course, Windsor is named after a town in England and Hartford is derived from the English town named "Hertford". In any event, after a brief stint in Hartford, Windsor became my parent's permanent hometown for six decades.

Dad also did maintenance work for both Windsor Federal Savings and the Windsor House. "When did you have time to sleep dad?", I inquired. "Sleep?! Didn't have time for it." This was in addition to weekly family trips to New York and any other organizations he belonged to. With his younger brother some years later, my father had a trucking company, called the Clifford H. Primus Company. The H stands for Hamilton, his adopted middle name. Dad even got his real estate license in order to sell houses and property.

Source:  Typewriter Museum

In 1941 The United States entered World War II and defense plants were extremely busy. Strong men and later women, were needed to run factories efficiently and to keep up with orders. Dad was working long hours and saving his money. For all intents and purposes, he was exempt for serving in the military. So how did Clifford Primus end up being a Montford Point Marine?

Monday, January 7, 2013

African American Migration: Dad Chose Connecticut

"Out of ALL of the places in the world, Daddy, why did you choose, Connecticut?", a sibling asked teasingly, this past summer. It was after the Montford Point Marines Congressional Medal of Honor Ceremony and we were back at my parents' house in Windsor, CT.  Many African Americans had left the South in droves during the Great Depression for better job opportunities and less racism. The North and Midwest represented the Promised Land, an exciting frontier.  Blacks headed to large Metropolitan areas such as New York City and Newark from Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina. If you hailed from Tennessee, like my mom, there was a good chance you had relatives that migrated to Chicago or Detroit.

Note the preponderance of British Names, as CT was a former British Colony.
CT is one of seven states that comprise New England.

California also had a lot of Negroes, as they were called back then, that moved west from Lousianna, Misssissippi, and Arkansas. In the autobiography, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, by America's former Poet Laureate and noted author Maya Angelou, she poignantly describes her interesting experiences in Oakland /San Francisco, CA and being hired as the first African American female streetcar conductor. Additionally,  Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Gary, IN, (Think Jackson 5) were all cities that also received an exodus of Blacks from Jim Crow South.


But young Clifford Primus, at age 17 with four dollars in his pocket, and his best friend Columbus, took the bus to up north from Daytona Beach, Florida. Columbus possessed about 35 dollars, because my dad stated his father "had money". He said everyone was going to New York City. He simply looked at a map and chose Connecticut, "The Constitution State." Connecticut played a pivotal role in forming the federal government. Its Native American Alogonquin name means " Upon the long river."

Clifford knew absolutely no one in the state.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Great Depression Part II

The Great Depression for The Primus Family during the thirties were admittedly difficult. However, my dad's parents were able to work for a wealthy German man who owned a successful paint company. The owner lived on a fantastic estate located on an inlet in Daytona Beach, Florida with rich neighbors such as the Fords  (of Ford Motor Company). The owner also had a yacht and employed workers whose primary job was to clean the salt water off of the vessel to prevent erosion.

 Clearly, the Roaring Twenties was a time prior to the Great Depression when Americans enjoyed a high standard of living. Jazz Music, an art form created by African Americans that was a combination of blues, African music, classical music and improvisation, was the soundtrack of that era. People spent money freely, and enjoyed travel, parties and luxury. Flapper girls were in vogue; they were women with short bobbed hair and shorter length dresses that were the rage. Wealthy industrialists and business owners had winter mansions and year long residences in Florida, the Sunshine State. The railroad, America's primary long distance mode of travel was extended by industrialist Henry Flagler.

                                                              A true American Art Form
                                                                                       Source: Wikipedia

                                                                 Henry Flagler's Railroad
                                                                  Source: Absolute Astronomy

                                                 Flapper girls, stylish women of the 1920s who partied!
                                                                Source: Discocollective

But when the Stock Market Crashed America was in for a rude awakening.

Fortunately for the Primus family my paternal grandfather, William Primus, was a groundskeeper for the aforementioned wealthy man. My paternal grandmother, Lily, was the cook. The couple were able to raise children in a decent manner and avoid the extreme poverty that their neighbors experienced in Daytona Beach. According to my dad, the wealthy businessman would slice off one piece from a country ham and tell my grandmother to share the rest of the food with her family. Grandmother would do that and also share food with hungry neighbors who eagerly awaited the food to avoid starvation.

I love the fact that food was being shared. The term my dad uses is "crooked arm", because when carrying a bag on your arm, well, your arm is literally crooked. Domestics bringing food home referred to food, as a crooked arm." Today as an adult I would stop by the house and my dad would murmur, "go to the kitchen and get a crooked arm". I would chuckle. He never wanted me to go hungry and had surplus food.

Since grandfather was a landscaper for acres of property on an estate, grandfather was very meticulous.   That same amount of care was used for the Primus family property on North Campbell Street, a modest home that had a goldfish pond and a sidewalk. My dad bragged that his father was ahead of his time. To this day, my father and ALL of his brothers and sisters have great lawns. "Looks like it's going to rain," he tells my brother. "Do you think you can mow the lawn?" So not only does he has a professional company come out for the lawn, but family members, neighbors and myself have been enlisted to mow the lawn in Windsor, CT. Usually Dad hovers over us, making sure that the mowing is perfect. Invariably we all sigh.

                                                            A fish pond in Florida
                                                                             Photo courtesy of  L. Ramos

But my dad had to consider employment opportunities after high school during the Great Depression. It is one thing to live under your father's roof as a child, but my dad was a  teenager. A large portion of Black Daytonians were unemployed. Where were the jobs?!!! What was my father going to do for a living?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Comic Relief and R&R (Rest and Recreation)

                                                                                           Source: AP

Did you ever notice that people that have had to go through difficult times end up with the best sense of humor? In reading about famous actors and comedians, I'm always amazed about their childhoods. Great comics such as Bill Cosby, Chris Rock, Richard Pryor, Mo'Nique, Steve Harvey, Eddie Murphy, Redd Fox, the list goes on, were able to find relief and refuge through comedy. Comics are able to capture a specific moment and retell it in a way that is captivating to their audiences. The receptive audience in turn, identifies with the funny material and laughs, which releases endorphins, a feel good chemical that your body releases when you laugh or exercise.

Many of the comics I mentioned were able to tap into the pain of oppression or poverty and persevere. For Blacks during my father's time, (segregation) folks would have get togethers, reunions, parties, sporting events, social clubs and worship services, which  provided a safe harbor against discrimination. Community ties were sacred and everybody knew whose child you were.

 You didn't dare act a fool in school because you would get the paddle AND even more trouble when you got home. Corporal punishment for misbehavior in school was usually done by the principal. Most of my friends that I grew up with whose parents were from the south and working class used this method of discipline. Children had to go and retrieve the belt or "switch" from the tree, which seemed like the longest march in history. Most comics of color usually have a routine where they describe being disciplined back in the day. Today, children receive time outs and loss of privileges, such as loss of cell phones, or no television. A child with any visible markings on their skin by law in many states are required to be reported to the protective services and authorities.

My parents worked very hard during the week, and every weekend my family would make the long, two hour drive from Hartford, CT to the World Famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, USA. They saw comics and great singing acts such as James Brown, The Supremes, Jackson 5, Etta James, Stevie Wonder.... a plethora   of jazz and r&b greats and had a wonderful time. (I was an infant so I don't recall these excursions) My parents also entertained people at home and played card games such as Bid Whist, and Spades.

                                                                            Jazz Great, Miles Davis

 When I moved into my very first apartment, a loft with exposed brick,  Dad who by then was elderly, remarked, "Hey, this reminds me of Greenwich Village where I saw Miles Davis perform."  I immediately pictured Miles Davis, the cool jazz player, who was known to turn his back to the crowd, performing. Later on, when I directed plays, students would inadvertently turn their backs to their audience and I would shout out, "Miles Davis!" They would laugh because they remembered me describing his unconventional performance style. Miles Davis, the style icon, played the trumpet for fifty years. It was hard to select just one of his many black and white photos, I might add.

I didn't really joke around with my dad until my late teens. As I said before, strict, old school dad. "Dad, you so old that when you were young you had to start your car by turning a large handle outside!" I was being obnoxious and "grown". "Hey, you're right, my father had a Model T Ford and that's how we started the car." Oops. Technology has certainly come along way with remote starters and keyless entry. Anyways....

Never underestimate the power of comic relief, or entertainment. Soldiers require R&R (Rest and recreation) because it replenishes them. Entertainers also perform on bases for troops. For the Montford Point Marines, they had an extended R&R before deployment (I'll explain THAT in the future.) It could be the frightened mother and child in a homeless shelter. A frazzled management guy in the suburbs. An anxious child in school who is preparing for a state standardized test. If you are a breathing, living, human being, we all need comic relief, recreation and entertainment.

                                                                            Source: USO

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