“So, you all went for the sit-in, gramps, I get that. But, what else happened at the sit-in? Tell us, gramps, will you?” the chubby eleven-year-old sitting on the lap of a much older man in his seventies asked. Aaron didn’t care that he might be a little too old to be on his grandfather’s legs. All that was on his mind was this story the old man had been telling him.
Elijah Grey replied his grandson’s question with a smile. Memories of that day in 1963 filled his mind. It was as though a united front was all they needed to get out. The minute they all became one, the door came open of its own accord. They didn’t even have to struggle.
And when they went for the sit-in despite the hate that was evident in the eyes of those who knew them, despite the spoken threats and hidden messages, they sat with their friends around the table in silent protest of the evils of segregation. Elijah could have sworn that he saw Rosie smiling down on him as he sat with Steve and Maria.
And when he heard Felicia’s voice saying goodbye to him, he knew that his mission had been accomplished. Both Rosie and Felicia were in happy places. It was just saddening that the sit-in had ended in a tragedy.
“And how about professor Boxton? Didn’t you tell him the story? Did you not tell him that indeed his adoptive mother had been right and that indeed the house had been haunted by the ghosts of Rosie and her baby?” Noah asked, earning him a glare from his younger brother who was desperate to get an answer to his question.
“Oh I did, my boy. We all let him know about all that had transpired in that house. At first, he was doubtful but in time he believed.”
“Professor Boxton? As in late great grandfather Boxton?” Aaron asked.
“Yes. I took his advice and he became my mentor. Let’s just say, the Greys did not mind me being under someone else’s care. In time, we developed a cordial relationship. After all, they did save me at a time in my life when I was fragile and alone.”
“That’s true, grandfather. So back to the sit-in and life after it, so nobody did anything to you?” his older grandson of sixteen who had been sitting with them all along asked.
Elijah smiled at the young boy who was the reason he was telling this story. His passion for equal rights of all reminded Elijah very much of himself when he was reformed. But he had never told them this story before.
“That, my dear boy, is a story for another day.”
“And you want to know something else that happened back in those days? Your great uncle Paul and our friend Nate changed for the better. Their lifestyle choices were not the best but when they met the right women, the best women for them, they were able to understand how wrong their previous decisions had been.”
“So, what do you mean, grandpa?” Noah asked his grandfather.
“I know that you are young and all that but I will still tell you this. The kind of woman you have in your life is important. Women are beautiful and intelligent creatures. They have the capability of truly spurring you on and inspiring your decisions. A good woman is a treasure, my boy, and we all found one. We all did. Above all that son, make sure that you respect women. Do you understand that?”
“Yes, grandfather. I do.” Noah nodded. “Gramps, I’ve heard you and I understand all that you’ve said,” Noah told his grandfather, his head bopping as he nodded. “Now, back to the sit-in, gramps. Do tell me what happened at the sit-in now, will you?”
Elijah sighed and his grandson noticed the rueful and wistful look in his eyes. It seemed to be that his mind had drifted to a time very far away in the past. He was there for a while until Noah tapped his knee. The grey haired man started and looked at Noah through glassy eyes.
“What were we talking about, champ?” the old man looked around. “Where is Aaron?”
Noah chuckled lightly. His younger brother had slipped off their grandfather’s legs when his mind drifted away. He had heard his friends calling him from the front of the house.
“He should be out front with his buddies. It’s almost dinnertime so he knows not to go far,” Noah informed him. As if on cue, Allison, Elijah’s daughter stepped into the den.
She smiled and kissed her father on his cheek.
“Papa, come on, it’s time for dinner. Let’s go.” Allison pulled her father’s hand.
“Fine,” Elijah grunted as he stood up. “Where is my wife?”
Allison chuckled as she said, “Mum is with Alejandra. Let’s get going, papa. The guys are getting the cake into the dining room.”
“I honestly don’t see why we need such a large celebration,” Elijah grumbled. He stood up to his full height, towering over his daughter a little.
“Papa… you speak like it’s a bunch of strangers here. It is a family dinner for you, the only people here are your family who love you. It’s not every day that one turns seventy-seven, you know.” Allison nudged her father and grinned.
“More like a family weekend. This has been a weekend of festivities, mom. Even if it is just family, it still has been overwhelming,” Noah stood up, agreeing with his grandfather who patted him on his back.
“You see, he agrees with me.” Elijah ruffled Noah’s hair.
Allison rolled her eyes, hands on her hips as she said, “You both always agree with each other, papa.” She looked around the room and then turned back to the two of them, narrowing her eyes, “Where is Aaron?”
“He went out, probably to uh, to say goodbye to his friends. You know, with us going back home tomorrow and all that,” Noah explained. Allison gave him a searching look and then waved her hand towards the door,
“Well, go call him in. Dinner’s ready.”
“Right. I’m going to go do that.” At the door, Noah stopped and turned around to look at his grandfather. “Gramps, you are going to fill me in about the sit-in later in the night, right?”
Elijah grinned and nodded. Noah let out a cheer and left. Allison walked up to her father and smiled at him. She straightened his collar.
“You gonna tell him about Eliot?” she grinned up at him.
“Yes, I think I will. He is very much passionate about human rights and he is a protector. He wants to help and defend those who need help. Just like you,” Elijah smiled down at Allison. She was his last child and a civil rights lawyer.
“Oh papa, I think we both take after you. Now come on, Laura cannot wait for us to dig into that cake.”
“Fine,” Elijah muttered. He let Allison lead him out to the large dining room where his whole family was getting seated. His beautiful wife, Cassandra was holding Alejandra, Allison’s ten month old daughter and the newest addition to their large family.
Elijah smiled to himself as he looked around the table. His three sons and three daughters were all present with their spouses as well as all his grandchildren. Just the previous day, they had had a large party which had had in attendance every living member of their very large family, even his in-laws. They had all headed out earlier in the day. He felt completely blessed and happy. They were all chanting, ‘Happy birthday!’ and he grunted his thanks back causing them all to laugh. He cut into the large red velvet cake that his fourth child, Laura had baked. A few minutes later, they were all seated, digging into their meals.
“You know, you may not want to say it but we all know how much you love us and love this weekend we’ve all had,” Cassandra who was seating beside him whispered. He grinned back at her. She knew him all too well. They had been married for so long.
Elijah turned to his other side and stroked Alejandra’s hair. She was on her high seat, between him and her mother.
“Hey, did Paul tell you that Louisa was having a girl? The scan showed it,” Cassandra said as they ate.
Elijah nodded as he looked around the table, smiling contently to himself. He was happy. He and all his friends had all succeeded in having happy lives, not devoid of problems now and then but they had succeeded in overcoming all obstacles.
He looked across at Elijah who was deep in conversation with his cousin’s husband who was a journalist. From the look on the boy’s face, he had an idea what the discussion was about. It was that determined and serious look he always had on when he was discussing civil rights and oppression. The boy reminded him too much of himself and his daughter, Allison. He turned to look at her and he grinned. She was feeding Alejandra who kept playing with the food whenever it got to her mouth. The look on Allison’s face was a mixture of frustration and patience.
“Why don’t I take over?” he offered.
“Okay papa. She always behaves with you, anyway.” Allison handed him the plate of food. As soon as Elijah gave her the food, she swallowed it. She turned to her husband and said. “Why is it that papa is way better at handling them when they are babies than we are?”
Norton chuckled and said, “Simply because a wailing baby is no match for all the battles papa has been through,” he winked at Elijah who winked back.
Elijah smiled to himself. Yes, they had all fought a lot of battles back then when they had taken on the mantle to defend their friends and stand for the black movement. It had not been an easy road but they had kept at it, fighting for what they believed in and stood for.
“That sit-in was the first of many that we went to as a group, a team fighting for the oppressed. That saying is indeed right, champ. United we stand, divided we fall. We stood firm and united.” Elijah got that far off sad look in his eyes again.
“What happened at that sit-in, gramps? I can see that indeed you are happy about the efforts that you all made but at the same time, I can see the sadness in your eyes as you speak. What happened, gramps?”
“We sat in that café, firm and solid. We had no plans of backing down. We faced the glares with steely eyes of our own. We could hear the whispers between the patrons but we ignored every one of them. Absolutely no one was going to make us back down. The sit-in was not peaceful to the end, champ. Chaos broke out.” Elijah looked at his grandson with sad eyes.
“Why did that happen? I thought it was supposed to be a peaceful and silent protest,” Noah asked, quite surprised.
“Yes, that was how it was supposed to be but you see, son, in this life, those who feel that they are superior will always want to prey on those who they consider lower than them. Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean everyone in high places bully those below. It is just that it is only a few people who find themselves in places of authority that will still choose to be good to their inferiors, that will still choose to show love on those who they see as different. A large majority of people would rather bully people they see as below them and people they see as different.”
“I think I get what you mean, gramps,” Noah said as he nodded. “Simply put, a great number of people would rather look down on those below them. And you are right, gramps. Even in this day and age, it is still like that. In the workplace, most bosses treat their employees like they are less human than they are. People see a blind person, someone who is lost and what do they do? They would rather spit in their faces than help them. A person falls on the floor, instead of helping that person up, they walk over the person and move along. It is quite saddening gramps, it seems like the world is programmed that way. Why are people like that, gramps? Why would they rather not help those that need it? Those that are below them?”
Elijah shook his head and sighed. “That is a question that I have been asking myself for a long time champ, for a very long time. So, you see, the police raided the café and you know what they did?”
Noah shook his head, looking at his grandfather with curiosity. Elijah let out another sigh as he said, “They came into the café and headed for the blacks. They pulled everyone of them out hitting them with batons and kicking at them. There were screams in the air and the pavement was stained with blood.” The faraway look returned to Elijah’s eyes and his grandson could feel the pain emanating from him. “I will never forget the cries of those blacks as their blood was being shed. Those cops tortured them like they were animals and not humans like them.”
“What about Maria and Steve?” Elijah asked hurriedly. “Were they hurt as well?”
“Oh champ, we the whites were ignored when the blacks were pulled out along with Steve and Maria. The blacks were all lined up and taken down with blows one after the other. We all dreaded the moment that it would get to our friends. Suddenly, there were gunshots in the air and trust me, up to this day, I have no idea where those shots originated from. If the shooter’s purpose was to aid the blacks, it worked because those shots created further ruckus as everyone scampered around, scurrying for cover. Notwithstanding, the police still lunged for as many blacks as they could lay their cowardly hands on. We all fled as fast as we could but Maria fell down and Steve ran to help her. We all stopped and as we saw the police approaching in that alley, Eliot ran forward and helped them up. The police got to them and started kicking at them. Eliot was brave…”
Elijah lowered his eyes as he remembered the pain of losing his friend though it had been for a great cause. “I remember we all ran forward to help but he pushed us back as he took on the police. He grabbed my hand for a split second and said, ‘Take good care of our new friends, Elijah. Now go!’ And so, we did. We ran as fast as we could. As we turned the bend, I spared a glance behind and I saw that more cops had appeared and Eliot had been overpowered. I tried to go back but they pulled at me. Eliot had told us to go. He sacrificed himself for Steve and Maria. He sacrificed himself for the blacks. In some ways, I think he had made his peace with life and he would not have had it any other way. His sister had loved the blacks, he too, and he died for them.”
“He… he died?” Noah choked on the words. Elijah nodded in sadness. “He died for what he believed in. He died trying to save the oppressed and forgotten.”
“Yes indeed, son. Yes, he did.” Elijah smiled at his grandson through his sadness. He was truly proud of his brave friend.
“Uncle Eliot, he’s named after him, right?” Noah asked. Elijah nodded. Eliot was his first son. “What about Steve and Maria, gramps? Are you all still in contact. I know Great-uncle Paul and everyone else but I don’t think I’ve met the both of them.”
Elijah smiled as he ruffled Noah’s hair. “You did meet them. But, you were still a baby then. They are currently in Africa. They own several outreach centers and shelters across several countries over there.”
“Really? Wow! Even now, they are still helping those who need it,” Noah said. He shook his head. “Wow, gramps, you inspire me a lot. You have shown me that no matter what, I should stand for what I believe in, no matter what people say or do to me. I should help those who I can help. Thank you so much for this grandfather. Thank you.”
“I am happy you think that way, champ, and I am proud of you.” Elijah smiled at his grandson.
Just then, the doors to the den opened and a large chattering bunch walked into the room.
“Story time’s over, you both,” Eliot, Elijah’s first son said as they all entered. “It’s family time.”
The laughter increased as discussion began between all of them. Elijah looked at his family and kissed his wife’s head of grey hair. He felt happy and content.