Friday, December 24, 2004

A Box for Margaret

It's Christmas Eve, and I'm thinking of my dad. He passed away back in 1978, but at this time of year, there's a special memory of him that inspires me like no other. 

Back in the 1960's, my father was the manager of the Hogue and Knott #3 Supermarket on Lamar Avenue in Memphis. If you've visited elsewhere in my site, you've probably read stories about some of his patrons (see Luther for an example). I worked weekends and summers at the store from the time I was sixteen until I went away to college, and on several breaks thereafter, so I came to know many of the regulars. 

One of our most endearing customers was an elderly African American woman named Margaret, who lived in a tiny, drafty yellow clapboard house just down the street from the store. Margaret's husband was totally blind, but he was self-sufficient enough that she could leave him for short periods to walk to our store to buy groceries. She was one of those people who had next to nothing in terms of material possessions, yet never found anything important enough to complain about. 

Every year, in the last few days before Christmas, my dad would say that we needed to get a box together for Margaret. He would go around the store, packing her a big box of what were then staples: items such as flour, sugar, Crisco, and corn meal. Then, on Christmas Eve, he would present the box to Margaret as a gift -- no charge, it was just his way of helping someone who had nothing. I don't know that the items in the box were considered as a writeoff, and I don't imagine that my dad really cared one way or the other. Many times, I saw him give food or gifts to people in need. He didn't say much about it, but you knew he was always at the ready. 

And so today, when I stopped into my neighborhood Kroger supermarket to pick up some dishwasher detergent ($3.99 shelf price), I paused at the checkout line and purchased one of those $7.50 boxes of canned food for the needy, then placed it in the donation box set up at the front of the store. I didn't feel right until I had bought that box. It was as if my dad were looking over my shoulder, telling me to look out for others who might not have much of anything under their tree, if they even have a tree. 

Dad, I miss you, and I wish you were here. I thank you for your wisdom, your humor, and the work you did throughout the years to provide for us. But most of all, I thank you for putting in my heart and head the twin spirits of charity and empathy. I will try to keep them there until I buy next year's box. 

God bless, and Merry Christmas to you all.

Friday, December 17, 2004

I have rediscovered my records, and my wife is understandably terrified. A couple of nights ago, I received a new phono cartridge that I had ordered online (call that a marriage of Seventies and Nineties technologies). For those of you who are too young to remember, a phono cartridge is the thingie that holds the needle ("stylus") which plays the record.

The first selection I sampled was David Bowie's "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars", followed in rapid succession by a cut or two from "Led Zeppelin II". Then tonight, in a fit of nostalgia, I spun Side 1 of Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Brain Salad Surgery". All these classics brought back many memories of evenings in the Seventies, sitting around in my Chicago dorm, trying to stay warm during my first winter there.

Karen has tried on several occasions to persuade me to rid myself of these albums. She believes that eBay provides a clever and convenient alternative to having them anchor the bottom shelves of our upstairs bookcases. But I believe that these carefully crafted platters of vinyl carry much more than music which she considers for the most part "obnoxious". I believe that "my records" (as I tenderly refer to them) are little musical vignettes of life as it was, even if some of them do have titles like "Polecat Woman".

I'm sure that as the weeks progress, I'll unearth more of these rotational treasures, and I'll try to remember to post a message whenever I hit a nerve. Perhaps I have opened a Pandora's Box. Stay tuned...

Sunday, December 5, 2004

It must be time for that trip out West. In years past, when I had a bit more control over my own destiny and schedule, I planned periodic trips to the West Coast for a reality check. Now, I know that to some of you, this may sound ironic, but let me explain.

I was born in Whittier, California, back in 1955, in the middle of the Eisenhower era. My parents were fond of L.A., but the rest of the family, with the exception of my dad's brother, was back in Tennessee, and I guess it was some acute need for closer family ties that lured my mom and dad back to west Tennessee. So that's where I grew up, with the exception of several summers during my teenage years, when my mom and dad would send me back to California to spend summers with my uncle and aunt.

Summer in California as a teenager was spectacular. We could ride horses down undeveloped dirt roads on Western movie sets in Chatsworth, shop at these new things called malls (also handy for checking out girls) in Canoga Park and Reseda, spend a day at Zuma or Pt. Mugu Beach, and get the perfect tan. It was nirvana.

In my twenties, I had a job which required me to travel to Los Angeles on a regular basis. It was during those years that I made new friends with similar interests. I was living in Chicago and Atlanta at the time, so going back to California meant a) getting a lucky reprieve from the brutal Chicago weather, and b) being among a more sober crowd than I found at that time in Atlanta.

Of course, many years have passed, and I know that all things change over time -- I'm sure that much change has come to Southern California. But I must say that to see the Hollywood sign lit up at night, to cruise west on Sunset, and to dine at one of my favorite places on La Cienega would indeed be rejuvenating at this point.