Mary and I just returned back home to Florida from an awesome week of visiting family in West Virginia and Maryland. We drove up for three special events; Mary’s adoption, the Pumphrey Taxpayer’s Association banquet honoring my 88-year-old dad, and me singing at my 50th high school reunion.
Before pulling out of our driveway, we prayed for a safe trip and to be a blessing to all we came in contact with.
Back in the 1950s Mary’s divorced dad married a divorced woman with a son. Blended families were rare back then. Mary’s dad adopted his new wife’s son. Two years ago, Mary’s dad passed away. It dawned on his widow that she had never officially adopted Mary. She started the legal process which culminated at a West Virginia courthouse before a judge. The elderly judge was so moved that he decided to adopt his adult son.
Upon our arrival at Mary’s mom’s house, I gave my mother-in-law a big hug. To give them some mother/daughter alone time, I went outside and walked her property; several acres of beautiful West Virginia rolling hill country. Mary’s mom looked so frail. I thought, “Wow, she is running out of time.”
About 50 feet from the main house, I noticed the pavilion Mary’s dad built with the help of one of his sons-in-law; now in disrepair. I remembered the fun bonfires, cookouts and Christmases with snow; kids running around, opening gifts and making merry. I know that sounds corny, but that is what I remembered.
Forty years ago, when Mary brought me home, a black guy, her parents did not like it. They eventually got over it and became awesome in-laws. Now, Mary’s dad is gone and her mom is frail.
As I walked her property reminiscing (keeping an eye out for black bear), it dawned on me how important it is to cherish and be grateful for the good times.
Mary’s two sisters and their husbands took us out for dinner to celebrate Mary’s birthday, becoming their official sister. Our son and his girlfriend joined us. At dinner, they showered Mary with gifts. Some gifts were serious; others were funny. Everyone was in a joyous mood. We laughed a lot. I was overwhelmed with gratitude; grateful for the love between Mary and her sisters; grateful that their husbands (both white) and I treat each other like brothers; grateful that our son is handsome, a good man and doing well. I was grateful that God opened my eyes at Mary’s mom’s place to realize that this was not just a dinner. It was another family occasion to be grateful for and cherish.
While driving to Maryland, a song released in 1975 came on the radio, “Times Of Your Life” by Paul Anka.
In my youth, I thought the song was pretty sappy. Today, in my late 60s, I understand exactly what Paul was singing about.
Pumphrey Taxpayer’s Association Banquet Honoring Rev. Dr. Lloyd E. Marcus
Back in the 1950s my dad was among the first blacks to break the color barrier to become Baltimore City firefighters. Dad’s new job enabled our family (mom, me and 4 younger siblings) to move out of the Baltimore projects. My parents purchased a home in a small close-knit black community outside of Baltimore called Pumphrey. Rev. Marcus became a pillar of the community.
Though a bit small and outdated, the organizers thought it most appropriate to have dad’s banquet in Pumphrey at the Lloyd Keaser Community Center. Lloyd Keaser was born in Pumphrey. He was the first African American to win a gold medal at the World Championship for freestyle wrestling. Keaser also won a silver medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. My brother married Keaser’s sister. Keaser was in attendance at Dad’s banquet.
Politicians attended the banquet bearing citations praising my dad. A midst the many accolades, Dad told me he was most taken aback by a plaque presented to him by Fire Chief Purnell Oden on behalf of the Anne Arundel County Professional Black Firefighters Association. After years in the Baltimore City Fire department, dad realized there were no blacks in the county fire departments. Dad hand-delivered applications to several young blacks. One of them became Fire Chief Oden.
Dad said all his black applicants failed the test. After looking at the test, dad realized why they failed. The county test was designed for those who served as volunteer firefighters. Blacks were not allowed to be volunteer firefighters. Dad worked with the county not to lower the standard, but to make the test fair. County officials gave blacks the test at dad’s church.
After saying she would be unable to attend, my daughter surprised us by driving up from Virginia to attend dad’s banquet. Dad said seeing her made his day complete. Dad said after seeing her, he could have gone home happy before the festivities. I was thrilled to see her as well. Though we disapprove of her lesbian lifestyle, she is pretty much the princess of our family. Loving someone unconditionally does not mean you must approve of everything they do. My daughter understands and respects our biblical position. After Dad’s banquet my daughter texted me, “I love being a Marcus.” That’s my girl. Dad’s prayer is that none of his family leaves this world without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He hopes to hear my daughter’s testimony before he dies.
My sister, one of my brothers and a grandson spoke at the podium on behalf of our family. A common thread of their remarks was the pressure they felt growing up being the daughter, son, and grandson of Rev. Marcus. Today, they are proud and grateful.
Dad told me when he was a kid, he and a buddy stood while riding a Baltimore City transit bus. Leather straps were connected to a metal bar connected to the ceiling. Dad said they thought it was funny to bend the straps a certain way which caused a sound that annoyed passengers. He overheard a woman say,” It’s how they were raised.” Dad said her words cut him like a knife, impacting him greatly. He knew Aunt Nee raised him better.
The band at the banquet played a song which inspired dad and my stepmother to spontaneously dance. My mom passed 20 years ago. With huge smiles on their faces, all of dad’s grandkids videotaped dad with their phones. Their love and respect for the family patriarch was unmistakable. While dad is extremely loving and easygoing, they know granddad stands firmly on biblical principles. The banquet sent millennial family members the message that being a Marcus requires them to strive to behave at a higher standard. And that is a very good thing.
When called upon to give his closing remarks at the banquet, dad sang a verse of a song, “When I think of the goodness of Jesus and all He has done for me, my soul cries out hallelujah. Thank God for saving me.” Dad said a few words of thanks and great gratitude.
I am grateful that at 88 years old, dad is still himself, wise and mentally sharp. He still preaches the second Sunday of every month. Every Thursday Dad walks the rough Baltimore neighbor around his church. He carries a sign that reads, “Stop the Killing” encouraging black youths to stop murdering each other.
My 50th High School Reunion
In the 1960s, Pumphrey students were the first blacks to be bused to Brooklyn Park Jr/Sr High School. The first day our school bus pulled into the parking lot, greeted by a sea of white faces was the scariest day of my life as a seventh grader. Plus, I stuttered. I felt pretty invisible throughout high school. While I excelled in art and even won scholarships to art college, I did not think anyone noticed me.
Organizers of the reunion via Facebook asked me to attend and sing. A black relative who also attended Brooklyn Park said he would not attend because he had bad memories of racism. I said, “For crying out loud, that was 50 years ago. People, times and things change.”
The reunion was wonderful. Mary and I were greeted with great warmth. It occurred to me that unlike public education today, we received an excellent education at Brooklyn Park. Two of the handful of blacks in my graduating class became doctors. One black became a successful contractor. I became a graphic designer/art director. My song went over great contributing to making the reunion pleasurable. I left feeling grateful.
Gratitude was at the core of our wonderful road-trip up north which is sorely lacking in America today.