Why Didn’t You Ask About Me?
Cryss A. Jones
My story, “Questions and Time”, was published in an anthology, of the same name, which is no longer available for purchase. However, it’s available here. Reviews are welcome.
The following is a letter to my father, Christopher Columbus Jones, on the thirty-three (33) year anniversary of his death.
…I never know where to begin. We’ve done this- well, I’ve done this every September 4th, since about 1985. Usually, I would tell you about the family, and give you world updates (trust me, you don’t want to know); tell you how I continue to screw-up my life, etc., but not this time. I’m almost fifty (50) years old, and I have lived, learned, loved, and lost. I’ve had happy moments. I’ve had hellish times. I’ve laughed heartily, loved deeply, and managed to become a bit jaded, in the process. I have finally, FULLY surrendered my life to Christ, so my perspectives are ever changing. That said, I want to share a few things, muse a bit, and ask questions I’ve not allowed myself, before now.
As I’ve grown older, it seems I have more questions, than answers. I thought you were supposed to grow in wisdom, as you got older. I guess the nature of the questions prove that I have, in fact become a little wiser. I supposed when you get near the fifty (50) year old mark, you begin to ponder greater mysteries. What have I done with my life? Have I made a positive difference in the world? Regrets? What’s next? What is my relationship with God like? How long do I have left? Momma’s gone now; two days before my birthday, nonetheless. I’m widowed, with no children, so the words legacy, and ancestry, are now more than mere concepts.
Reminisce with me, Daddy. Lemon Street. 8-8:30 p.m. Momma would get me bathed, and in my pajamas, and I would anxiously await the sight of your big Lincoln Town Car™ coming down the street, to take me for my nightly ride around the block. I must have been about 4 years old, when this blissful ritual began; at least that’s my earliest memory. Your car seemed to take up the whole block; your presence, the entire neighborhood. People always stopped and stared, when you were around. You were, to me, larger than life. Always larger than life. I had no concept of the fact that you worked three jobs, seven (7) days a week, just to be certain that I had anything I wanted, and that you probably needed to be asleep at that time. You always made time for me. How? How did you do it?
Picnics at Robert E. Lee Park (Raa-baa-lee, as I called it), after you’d gone to Corn Beef Row, and got massive deli sandwiches, and everything to go with it. The movies, when you would put Planters ™ peanuts in your Coke ®. Ice Cream floats, root beer for you, and grape for me, at Read’s ® Drug Store, on a lazy saturday afternoon. Taking me to work with you, to your day job, driving the Baltimore City Dental Bus to the elementary schools, so kids could have free dental care. First, we’d go to the small restaurant around the corner from the bus garage on Elgin Avenue, or “go-rage”, as you said in your southern accent. You’d have coffee, and, a chocolate cake donut, with milk. You always said that you liked “a little coffee in your cream and sugar”. I drink it that way, too, on the rare occasions in which I indulge.
It seemed every staff person recognized you, at your job, and always greeted you kindly, by name; Mr. Jones. They seemed to already know me, as well. You’d tell anyone who’d listen about me. Why?
Afterward, we’d make our way to the garage, and greet your fellow drivers. They knew of me, as well. Ms. Marty, and Ms. Daisy, the Bus Aides, from when you used to drive a regular school bus.
“Are you paying attention in school, young lady?”
“Make sure you’re being a good girl.”
“Your Daddy really loves his baby.”
I felt so special. But why so special to you?
You, and your best friend, Mr. Charlie Wilson, would go to your respective buses, after a bit of morning “jawing”, and prepare for the day. I watched you intently. Your ritual the same. Every detailed etched in my memory. Open the bus doors, start the engine, turn on the lights. Starched navy blue uniform straight, one pant leg tucked into your work boot, and black leather work gloves; first left, then right. You would descend from the driver’s seat, and begin taking the wooden blocks from each tire. You checked fluids, tire pressure, and gave the bus a thorough once over, before inviting me to my usual seat, where the kids would wait for their exams, and we were off.
“What school are we going to today, Daddy?” You’d answer, telling me which Dentist would be working that day, about how often you went to that particular school, and how great the hot lunch was, that was always waiting for you. No joke there. Those lunches were A-Mazing! The Bus Aides, female Teachers, and Cafeteria ladies LOVED my Daddy. I was too young to know how much, or why, though.
Every six months, I’d have my annual teeth cleaning. My eighth year stands out for me, as it was PURE HELL! During the visit, I screamed and cried out in pure agony, and you used to be so angry, and embarrassed by my behavior. The Dentist was Dr. Davis, a very mean caucasian man, who had a goatee, and looked as if he could be a villain on “Get Smart”. He used to tell me to “stop all that shuckin’ and jivin”, or “shut up all that noise”, but only when you were out of earshot. I thought he was your boss, and I didn’t want you to argue with him, and maybe lose your job, because of me, so I began to tolerate pain, in silence. I remember him telling you that I had eight (8) cavities! I thought your head was going to pop off, and steam would come out. Too many cartoons, right? You even called me Crystal, that day. I didn’t respond immediately, as it sounded so foreign coming from a man who’d only called me “Daddy’s Baby”. I knew two things in that moment: it was going to be a scarily quiet ride home, with no stop at the Sears and Roebuck on North Avenue for new doll clothes, and that you’d be gunning for my Momma. I’d seen your temper (verbal) first hand, when it came to her. Whew! Your attack was fierce, frightening, all-consuming. When you told Momma, she was angry with me, too. An argument ensued; you blaming her for letting me eat so much candy, she blaming you for the same. I went to my hiding place under the table, until I thought it was safe to exist, again. It wasn’t until I was 12 years old that a random conversation with Momma, led to the revelation that I had not been given a numbing agent, whilst the Dentist was drilling, and filling my teeth. I guess she told you, huh? The next time I saw Dr. Davis, he looked extremely nervous, and was very gentle. Go figure.
You drove for the Baltimore City Schools, during the day, ran bus trips for Harford Motor Coach on weekends, and “hacked”. I don’t remember a time when you weren’t there, and you lived clear on the other side of town. How, Daddy? How did you manage it all?
Hugo Avenue. I recognized your signature “zing-zing” of our antique doorbell every single day. I waited all day for your visits. They were solace. They were safety. They were pure love for me – for the weird kid no one liked. Most of the neighbors thought you lived with us, because you were there each day, after work. Houdini could have learned a few things from you.
I ALWAYS seemed to be asking for something. Late night trips to the house, because I had a nightmare; a trip across town, in a torrential downpour, because I’d heard a new song on the radio, and HAD to have the 45 r.p.m., THAT DAY ! ”With A Little Luck- Paul McCartney, and Wings. Just for the record, Daddy, all of that had to hear the music, had to have it, turned out to be how I became a Songwriter, Singer and Composer, with perfect pitch. It wasn’t wasted. I promise. It wasn’t wasted, was it?
Expensive jewelry, dolls, souvenirs from your bus trips. All of this outside of the new wardrobe each season; Christmas, Easter, Birthdays, Halloween, Back-to-School… Heck, you gave me my first diamond. A sterling silver necklace, with a cross, and a diamond chip in the middle. I fell in love with it, during one of our trips to the mall. You were looking at a necklace for yourself, because you always looked good, head-to-toe. Sharp as a tack, just to go around the corner. I begged and begged, with no idea that getting my necklace meant you didn’t get yours. Why didn’t you say “no”, Daddy? Why was I always asking for something? I’d make up for it later in life, when I got a good job, though. We had time.
The ice rink. The 1980 Winter Olympics was the goal. Whether it was Northwest Ice Rink, Memorial Stadium, or Baltimore Gas, and Electric, we were there. Cold weather, low on money, exhausted, you got me there. It’s one of the things you and Momma tag-teamed on. I’d fly across the ice, with beautiful abandon, while you drank stale coffee, and watched. The expensive skates, lessons, ice time. I was gonna make you proud. I bet you knew all along, I was never going to make it to the Olympics, didn’t you? I didn’t have the feet, the flexibility, or the money. Why didn’t you tell me?
I recall August of 1982, just before I began high school, you, Uncle Shep, and I went to visit your family in Virginia. I loved being with both of you, and the ride was scenic and the area unfamiliar, and exciting. We rode past vast fields of what you called “soldier beans”. You would think an inquisitive kid like me. ALWAYS full of questions, would have been frantic to know every detail of your young life – of both of your lives. Where did you play? Who were your friends? Where did you go for fun? When did your parents die? What were you afraid of, other than Squirrels ( that still tickles me, tough guy)? Where were your parents buried? Did you cry? Who taught you the things that you know about cars? Who’s your favorite Aunt, or Uncle? Did you get whippings, and for what? No. I asked NOTHING! Why? I was content just being with you. You were my deep breath. I didn’t need to know a thing. After all, I could ask those questions when I grew up and had a family of my own. You weren’t going anywhere.
Meeting your Cousin Easter was an absolute JOY. I was so shy, and so overwhelmed with the strangers about me, I was afraid to let you out of my sight. I slept on a fold out bed, in a living room. The night seemed darker than black, and there was absolute silence. To this day, it’s the best, and most peaceful night’s sleep I’ve ever had. Remember breakfast, Daddy? I’d never had fried corn, and you had to coax me to eat. You cut my breakfast meat for me, as usual (yes, I was 14 yrs. old), and I think you let me eat some pork, even though Momma never knew. I didn’t care. As long as I had you in my line of sight, or could hear your voice, your booming laughter, my world was safe. You weren’t gonna get too far. It was a wonderful trip. I still have the pictures, the memories…the, ahem, enough of that.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
1- God actually loves me more than even you did.
2 – Take nothing, and NO ONE for granted.
3 – Want vs. Need
4 – Love really IS the answer to all things, so don’t sprinkle it, pour it.
5 – I will never believe that man, on that day, in that coffin was you. You would NEVER abruptly leave me, at age 62. I waited for your return, from your trip to Boston. You were due back on Monday, Sept. 3, 1984. I spoke with you on Saturday, Sept. 2, 1984, for the last time. Did you know? You called me from your hotel room that night. In hindsight, you sounded woefully tired. I’d just come in from working an eleven (11) hour day at the shoe store, with Sharon. Her being the Manager, she would always let me work to earn cash for holidays, or back-to-school, etc. I was absolutely exhausted. I rushed you off the phone. I needed rest. Besides, we had time to talk when you got back, right? Did you bring me a souvenir? I know you did you always did. When we were hanging up, you said, “Good-bye”. How strange! You’d never said that before. I stared at the receiver, after you hung up. Huh? Well, I’ll ask you in a couple of days, when I saw you. No, I wouldn’t. I’d be too busy telling you about my first day of school, senior year, and whining because I didn’t get to go to Boston with you. There would be time for questions about your trip, your experience, your life.
There was always going to be time for questions, for revelations, for shocking details, for laughter, for tears, for the day you saw me graduate – the day you walked me down the aisle – to tell my children about your life. There was going to be time.
I’m sorry, we’re out of time.