The fights, which were usually drunken fall-down wrestling matches that ended in a smear of vomit, generally involved males of the same ethnic group scrabbling over women or dice or cards. The serious violence occurred outside with filed kitchen knives or pistols stolen from the Navy or rich whites. The Law normally contented itself with calling the ambulance or the morgue, except now and again when some rating from the Air Station got cut in the gut or around the gonads, or took a slug in a bad place. Then there was no jazz for a week or two, and most of the whites stayed away longer. Every couple of weeks The Reverend would amble in and play a bit of stride. That brought everyone back, just on the chance.
Remembering that he had been called out last week to comfort the wife of a dead Mexican (the Catholic priest had been devoting himself to communion with one of the city's ecumenical ladies), Griff started his feet in that direction, intending to veer off and check the spot where Maggie had gone diving. But he wandered away on a side street toward Seaview where he could enjoy a look at the Gulf.
-- He smiled. My mind is floatin' again.
It was an irregular experience that kind of scared him, but he always let it fly-away, fly-away, fly-away. He usually dipped into a useful part of the past or learned important new things on such unscheduled voyages.
-- Hell, that's how you ended up as well as a doctor.
Robin Griffin Jones was the surviving child of a man who taught school at the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia. His mother and sister died of disease, and his older brother caught death in an alley. The killings that night had been by and among Negroes, caused mostly by the jealousy and arrogance between the lights and darks. Black was good and cream was bad. The father lived with that wretched pain. Oh, yes, whatever the experts may say, people do remember pain and even feel it time and time again. It seared him, cauterized his soul, burned three principles into his life. "We got to stick together. We is all colored, no use trying to play at bein' white. We got to get educated. And we go to be our own people unto ourselves before the whites will admit we is humans."
Robin's father trekked his way along many rocky ruts to his grave; but jolting his way among the jagged crags of Negro urban life he had lifted the literacy rate of his students to more than 80 percent, and teased and persuaded and shoved many of them on to Hampton, Fisk, or Howard. His son among them.
-- Oh, he jammed me good. Never touched my face or my ass; but band on the ears, a knuckle into the kidney, a whack in the back of the knees and forever stickin' his mind into every place in my head. Go to hell, dear Father! So I'll be a damn doctor.
The young man's dream had been to play jazz piano and finally lead a big band. Part of his anger and defiance toward his father was because he blamed the older man for encouraging that whim-wham fancy. As he grew older, Griff had realized that his mother was really the one who spun that cloud. She had marched him in and plunked him down at the third-hand (but beautifully tuned) upright for at least an hour a day five days a week and taught him ragtime as well as études and sonatas. Once a month or so, late after midnight, he would be awakened by downstairs music and dancing and laughter not scored by Mozart.
Then there was the time when his mother's sister, slightly woozy, had taken him aside and let him sip her drink. "You a lucky Nigger, Little Robin. Yo Momma took lessons from big Bertha Gonsoulin, who learned her stuff from Jelly Roll and now and agin' played with King Oliver and Bunk Johnson. Griffin had never before been called a Nigger by a Negro, and couldn't even pronounce the name Gonsoulin. But he crept around and learned about both things and began to nag his mother to teach him some different piano. First she'd just smiled and said: "You take you time getting' old enough." But before she died she did it.
Probably it was because she just slept away one night after huggin' him for playin' The Saints pretty well, but for years he kept on blamin' his father for messin' up his life. Even now, laid back on a knoll above Seaview looking at the Gulf, he felt a twinge in his liver.
Table of Contents
- Maggie and Mr. Hank
- The Reverend
- Squalls Along the Flight Line
- Flying Home to Church
- A Visit with The Judge
- Monday Morning With The Admiral
- Into the Dining Room
- On Toward Walking the Streets
- Glimpses of An Election
- The Dream and The Reality of Violence
- The Admiral Loses More Than a Few Good Men
- Down That Lonesome Road