Sam considered Gran’s words, in relation to his father’s upbringing. He seemed meek in public but those who knew him saw how opinionated and self-righteous he could be. Especially with a bottle of beer in his hand.
On a rainy Sunday, Sam confided his feelings for Eunice to his father. He’d be out fiddling with the car engine, under the makeshift car port he’d built, maybe escaping the downpour or escaping mothers nagging inside.
“She’s a fine gal but Sam ain’tcha askin’ for trouble? Don’t go changing,’ into what she wants. You may feel encouraged to pluck parts of yourself she likes and present them as your whole but don’t deny the real you,” Harpo said.
It did seem ironic Sam loved the prettiest black girl in town, while figuring himself one of the least attractive.
“Son, it ain’t right what happened to you out at Pike Road. Don’t mix that business up with lady business. How do we know they wasn’t after you, thinking you was takin’ advantage of a white girl?” Harpo was perceptive before having too many brewskies.
“Pa! You know Curtis Johnston is black. It’s not like she’s a white girl. What if I was a gay guy, like Todd or a man changing into a woman!”
“Don’t talk foolish boy!” Harpo said, instantly enraged.
“All I’m sayin’ is there’s always another thing to hate. The only way around is to let people be themselves!” Sam said.
With what he learned from Gran, Sam didn’t need a degree to figure out opinions trickled-down the family tree like sap. Harpo probably learned self-deprecation, from his generation and that was passed from the one before.
After several cold ones Harpo shared openly about his day-to-day political views, the price of gas, stores opening on Sundays and his ball team the Atlanta Braves.
Sam didn’t enjoy drinking with Harpo, when the evangelical preacher came out. That’s when the window of civility closed without warning. The conversation inevitably turned scathing. Harpo would reach back into his temporal lobe, where the nasty stuff lived. Staunch views on religion, a woman’s place, abortion, sex, wedlock, queers and what current unfairness he experienced.
Then he’d wind up ranting on how Sofia was the cause of his failures.
“Jeez Pa, why on earth did you marry her?” Sam said, laughing. He wouldn’t have said that without alcohol.
“Don’t you speak of your Ma like that or I’ll tan your hide!” Harpo said, shifting to nostalgia.
“I’m sorry Papa. I got carried away,” Sam said.
There were a few moments of locked eyes, until his father softened again.
“Sofia was a breath of fresh air from day one. What you first find cute and quirky in a gal, usually ends up being the thing, that makes you wanna clock her one. Yet it’s still the thing that attracted you in the first place!” Harpo sounded melancholic.
Underneath, Harpo believed black folks opinions were of little use in today’s world. He’d been down the road of hope too many times.
As their male bonding veered into nonsense, Sofia showed up. “I’ll bet you boys are enjoying yourselves out here,” Sofia stood smug, with hands on hips. “Gotta run over to the church. Marjorie called me in a tizzy. It seems the large fan in the sanctuary is broken. I’m like what’dya calling me for? She said the gals were as nervous, as long tailed cats in a room full of rocking chairs. The new ministers arriving anytime now so it’s panic central.”
“Isn’t Marjorie wound tight most days? Where’s Wes? He’s still custodian right?” Harpo asked.
“I tried to direct her to the book, with all the numbers in it but sho ’nuff she won’t have it. She needs me to come down and hold her hand,” Sofia said.
“Ma, it’s all on the computer in the secretary’s office,” Sam said.
“Ha! Of course it is! We are talking about Marjorie. Don’t worry. I’ll get down there and jerk a knot in her tail. ‘Sides I wanna hear about this new minister. When I get back I’ll make Po’ Boys,” Sofia said. She had her version of New Orleans sandwiches Sam loved.
“Ma, your ears musta been burning. We were talking about the old days,” Sam said.
“Come over and sit a spell,” Harpo said.
“What on earth?” her curiosity trumped her rush to leave. They rarely sat around shooting the breeze anymore. Ever since Rory and Otis had gone they didn’t have family time.
“I’m working on bettering my education with the school board. What was life like in your teens compared to now?” Sam asked. He figured since Harpo never asked Sofia to join them, he’d try for a joint story to keep his father from finding another tangent.
“Which part Sam?” she asked.
“Being oppressed I guess. Siding with white society to get ahead,” Sam asked, trying to figure out if his own way of thinking was internalized racism, like Grandma had described.
“Well I’ll be damned. You know what we learned? How to serve without question!” Sofia said, her eyes lighting up.
Harpo grunted in agreement. His fingers greasy as he fiddled with the carburetor, he’d taken out of the engine.
“My brother Joe, what a little rascal. I was only knee high to a grasshopper. We kids loved Joe because he got into trouble for us. He was a fearless dickens. When he’d compliment Mamie, that’s what we called our mother, he’d kiss her on the cheek and say, ‘that meatloaf was slap yer Mamie good!’ then slap his own rump, while looking over at us to make us laugh. We did,” Sofia let down her tough guarded persona and looked misty eyed at having a captive audience.
“What in tarnation does Joe gotta do with anything?” Harpo asked.
“Let me finish. If the men had all been like Joe, I believe we might have risen taller. Don’t forget this was before the ghetto’s came up in Atlanta and Jackson. Joe stood up for himself in a respectful amusing way. It seems to me the only way to get folks to see is through laughter!” Sofia said.
“Really Ma? You used to say Richard Pryor had a foul mouth! Comics do get away with the truth though,” Sam said.
“I guess I got Joe on my mind. I watched this fellow on living colors the other night, who reminded me of Joe. He’s that one with an elastic face and don’t mind making a fool of himself,” she said.
“Ha! Are you talkin’ about Jim Carey?” Sam said. That guy turned stereotypes on their heads with white, black and Mexican characters. Sam wasn’t sure if he was in on the joke or adding to the ridiculous.
“That boy’s pretty funny!” Harpo said.
“I nearly peed my pants and I was already in bed,” Sofia said, breathless at getting riled up.
If his parents subliminally got the message from a kooky white guy ridiculing prejudice, maybe those skit shows were really brilliant nuggets of education. Propaganda for peace.
“Now, gimme some sugar, I gotta run,” Sofia said, tugging at Sam’s golf shirt collar.