From The Pen Of Frank Jackman
February is Black History Month
Mother To Son
Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So, boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps.
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now—
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
Clarence Martin knew, knew deep in his bones, that he would now have to talk to his just turned ten son, Lanny (full name Langston, named after the old Harlem Renaissance poet, Langston Hughes, whom he, and the brothers, had learned about and went “max daddy” be-bop hip-hop crazy over in that GED class at Norfolk when he had done his last stretch, that last and no more stretch for that damn liquor store armed robbery), now that he had made that first midget turn toward “the life” with that foolish “clip” he got caught doing over at Mr. Earl’s Jewelry Store in Roxbury Crossing (he would not tell his son, not for the world, that he too had clipped his fair share of jewelry from that very same establishment although he had never gotten caught in those days before every two-bit place had monitors all over the place). He would have to call his ex-wife, Lanny’s mother, Essie, and make arrangements for them to meet in some neutral place and have it out, have it out about the black facts of life in America, and about taking that midget turn back, back to rolling that rock up the mountain like that old Greek guy did.
As Clarence thought about how to approach his son, about how to tell him about his own troubles with the law that he and Essie had kept from him since Lanny had not even been born when, he, young wild buck he, got his wanting habits on and caused his own Mama and Papa some serious hell. He figured that he would just lay it on the line, man to man, even though at ten Lanny might not understand the whole thing. He would try to explain about a boy’s wanting habits, a boy fresh up from deep in the Jim Crow south, a boy born on some Mister’s sharecrop plantation and then early on moved up into a northern ghetto (over on high number Washington Street where his own parents still lived) where it seemed like the streets were paved with gold, although his people had no gold, no gold to satisfy his wanting habits.
So it had started, started simply for him and his corner boys, a hustle here, a jack-roll there, a little time at Morton Street, some street dope, some walking daddy pimp action (of his own girlfriend at the time and her sister for Chrissakes), then his graduate education-armed robberies for quick nickels and dimes to feed a burgeoning coke habit, then the big house. Graduated and done. A normal profile for a couple of generations of black boys, maybe three. He wouldn’t hold back (except that silly clip action at Mister Earl’s because he didn’t want any “like father like son” noise from Lanny, or Essie either).
Then he would point to his own turnaround, his job as head janitor at the John Hancock building in the Back Bay, and the slow and steady rising up of his own life. Nothing big, but he was still alive to talk about it, unlike the five other members of his Uphams Corner jive ass corner boy society who were either six feet under or sitting in some big steel house, mostly the former. He would tell him of Langston Hughes, no not the poet part (although the brother was still the “max daddy” be-bop hip-hop angel high priest) but getting wise in stir, getting wise inside and figuring out after that last stretch that he was either going be dead by thirty or a permanent resident of the underclass either in the big house, or out in some nowhere scene. So he got his GED, picked up some usable trade skills and shook the prison pallor off. And never looked backed, even if the road forward was not going to be blazing guns.
And then he would lay it on the line that ten-year old black boys, Lanny black as the night black boys, were born to die at thirty (maybe earlier), were born to have their wanting habits curtailed, were born to spent time in Mister’s steel boxes, were born to wither and die in some sleepy crack house, were as likely to be blown away just for breathing wrong by some blue-suited bastard or some irate honky, as for anything else. He would leave it at that he thought enough to fill up a grown man’s hurts, to fill up a strong grown man’s hurts and sorrows.
A minute later Clarence Martin, father, black father, black father with a story to tell dialed up Essie’s number on his cellphone and when she answered he said, “Hey, Essie, how’s things, I need to talk to Lanny, I need to talk to my son bad… ’’