Hard To Find

Factory Worker. Photo courtesy: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Stagalee had been working at the gun factory in Midland, Virginia for almost a year by the time Celestia Brentwood Farnsworth was hired there in 1979. Stag ran the CNC machine, milling and boring pistol parts. Having Celestia operating the sanding and grinding tools just across the aisle from him was like a breath of fresh air in the stale environment of the shop. The way the shop was laid out, there was a circular walkway or aisle that cut a path through the rectangle building. Machines were scattered on both sides of the aisle. There were drills, mills, sanders, saws of all types arranged in departments based on the company’s gun making process. Even though you couldn’t tell by looking, there was an actual work flow. There was a method in the madness of noise, dirt and dust. Most folks didn’t bother familiarizing themselves with the whole process, they learned just enough to keep the pay checks coming week to week.

Celestia made sure everyone knew she wasn’t just any ordinary worker, living pay check to pay check. From her first day on the job she told anyone in earshot that her father was very wealthy and that she didn’t really need to work there. Celest drove her father’s Mercedes Benz to work each day from their family home in Middleburg, Virginia. As she had done all of her life, when she wanted something, she simply went to her father and said “Daddy I want…”. Up until this last time, she’d always gotten what she wanted. This time, she’d gone to her father and said “Daddy, I want a car”. For the first time in her life her father bulked at a request she made. “Not this time baby, you think money grows on trees. You need to find out where it really comes from”. According to Celeste, her father told her she would have to get a job, any job, and save the first $500 of the cost of a car. Once she’d earned that amount, he would put the rest to it. And that, she proclaimed was the ONLY reason she was working at that “God-forsaken place”. It was the first job she’d ever had, the only one she could find and she’d only have it long enough to earn the money she needed to get that car, she made no bones about it.

Factory Worker. Photo courtesy: http://www.seattlelighthouse.org

Stagalee and Celestia hit it off from day one. They met and talked every chance they got. Stag would tell Celest of his aspirations in life, he hoped to some day become a high school Phys. Ed. teacher. She would tell him of her plan of someday becoming a partner in her father’s law firm, but first things first, get that car! They took their two daily 15 minute breaks together, sat outside at the picnic table and ate lunch together. To passersby, they were always laughing at some unheard joke, whispering shoulder to shoulder or just sitting quietly, enjoying each others’ company. They were friends, real friends. Stag had other friends, but she was special, they “got” each other, they had a connection.

After weeks of enjoying Celestia’s company, Stagalee came to the realization that his feelings toward her had begun to stray beyond the realm of friendship, he liked her as more than just a friend and wanted very much to move beyond it. It was during one of their daily breaks that Stag decided to share his feelings with Celest, they were so close, he was sure she must be feeling the same way he did. “Celest, we really get along well don’t we? As far as I’m concerned you’re my best friend”, Stagalee confessed. Celest looked at Stag and smiled, “Sure Stag, you’re really the only person I know here”, Celest took Stagalee’s hand as she spoke. This was going even better than he’d imagined. Even though Stag had never dated a white girl, he didn’t see her in those terms. He didn’t think race would be a problem for them or anyone else, after all, this was 1979 for cripes sake! “Celest, I was thinking that maybe you and I could go out, you know, on a date, maybe to a movie”. Stag held his breath.

Celest looked off into the distance, he noticed that the faint smile she always seemed to have had left her lips. She removed Stag’s hand from her grasp and her face became expressionless before she began speaking, “You want to date me? You and I?”, she seemed to be thinking aloud rather than speaking to Stag. “That would mean that eventually you would want to kiss me at some point. I’ve only ever kissed an adult negro man once in my life”. Stag was a bit surprised to hear Celestia talking this way, he hadn’t realized that she even thought of him as “a negro”, he thought she simply saw him as a friend. She continued to speak, “When I was growing up we had a butler who lived with us, his name was Jerome. Jerome took care of me since I can remember, he practically raised me, but then he became deathly ill. Once we knew there was no hope that he would recover, I went in to his room and visited with him as he lay in bed ready to expire. I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, he died not longer afterwards. We all loved Jerome, we knew there was no way we could ever replace him”. Then she looked directly into Stag’s eyes and stabbed him in the heart with her final words,”…And it’s a shame because it’s so hard to find good Black help anymore”. Stag almost choked, did she say what he thought she said? Was she serious? Was she just trying to put him in his place?

Well, there you have it, “Its so hard to find good Black help”, he knew exactly where he stood. With that he rose from the picnic table, went back inside and returned to his milling machine. They never spoke again. A few weeks later she quit her job at the factory, apparently saving the money she needed to get her new car. Stag learned that not only was good black help hard to find, but so were good friends. He would be a lot more particular in choosing his from then on.

Norfolk State College: The Untold Story

“Big – Bad – Moses – Rose!”
“Big – Bad – Moses – Rose!”
“Big – Bad – Moses – Rose!”

Oh no, here he comes again, Moses Rose, football star extraordinaire, walking through the quad of the Norfolk State campus singing about his favorite subject, himself.
It was just after Christmas break early in 1972 and Moses Rose was the big man on campus. Before that Jo Jo Bethea held that crown. He doesn’t know it, but he and I were in Phys. Ed. together, but that is the extent of our contact or my knowledge of his short stint on campus. One minute we were in Gym class together, the next thing I knew he was thrilling the crowds at Clemson and later at the Norfolk Scope with the Virginia Squires in the American Basketball Association. But Moses Rose was “Da Man” now and he let everyone within earshot know it by singing that one verse song of his (I won’t repeat it again here).

As far as I and my friends were concerned Rose could have his fame on the football field, we had ours in the ping pong room. We spent morning, noon and night playing table tennis. There was me, Trinidad (Trini), Trinidad #2, Jerome and “Plastic” and a few other names I can’t recall. It is my opinion that there has been someone on campus named Trinidad every year since the early 1960s. Our problem is that we had two Trinis, one was a great table tennis player and the other was a wannabe of the other Trini. Yes, you’ve already guessed it, they were both from the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Trini #1 was small and frail. He was what we called a professional student, when I matriculated in 1971, he had already been in school for six years and from the amount of time he spent in the Student Union building, he could look forward to staying another six or more. I don’t think the other Trini was actually a student, he could be seen working in an office on the upper floors in the building but always found time to make his way down to the basement where the ping pong room was located.

“Plastic” was the only female in the group, well, there was Gwendolyn, but she wasn’t as dedicated as the rest of us, she actually spent some of her time going to class. “Plastic” was a good player though, she had game. The reason we called her Plastic is because of the shiny make-up she always wore, it made her look like a mannequin in a store window. She wore a big afro, red lipstick, had rosy cheeks and was beautiful to boot. Plastic had a really nice personality, I think she was the one who sold me down the river. When I arrived on campus I told everyone I was from Washington, DC. I didn’t see the point in trying to explain that I was from a small little town way out in the country 50 miles away and besides, no one would ever know. Well, it didn’t take long for someone to ask what part of DC I was from, “Southeast”, of course. “Where in Southeast? What street do you live on? I know all about DC, did you go to Spingarn or Ballou?”. Well, that was all that it took, I was sunk. I said I went to Spingarn. “Spingarn? Spingarn? Spingarn is in northeast, Ballou is in southeast. Yeah, you’re from DC, Ha!” From that moment on we were best buddies, she called me “D.C.” and I called her “Plastic”.

The inspiration for our endeavor came one day while we were taking an outdoor break to watch little Trini show off his skills at soccer. Then, from off in the distance you could hear the faint sound approaching…
“Big – Bad – Moses – Rose!”

Great! Here comes Moses Rose, “That’s right, that’s right, step aside, make way for Moses Rose. Moses Rose is passing through”. For some reason he always referred to himself in the third person. I have to admit, the guy was impressive, built like a brick you-know-what, but in all fairness he was pretty entertaining, you had to like the guy for his self confidence, if nothing else.

It was then that someone spoke up, “Why doesn’t the school have a soccer team? We could all be on the soccer team” (I’d never played soccer in my life). Trini agreed and someone suggested that we just start one up, how hard could it be to start up a soccer team and schedule games, right? That’s how it all got started. The next thing you know we had not only organized a soccer team, we’d put together a chess team (the chess room was directly across the hall from the ping pong room). The student union was built with lots and lots of glass. The walls to each of the rooms in the basement were made of glass, as were the walls to the entrance of the building and the entrance doors. I can’t tell you how many newbies walked right into the walls and doors face first, trying to get into the building. You could just stand at the entrance to the basement and pick out the kids who were going to run into the glass “SMACK!”
So, by the end of that week, we had organized enough people to have a soccer team, a table tennis team, a chess team and a spades (card game) team. The next step was to make some phone calls to other schools to see if they would be interested in organizing representatives from their campuses to compete against us and other schools, yet to be determined.

Before Long we had schedules for traveling from one to school to another. We were the first to travel and first on our list was a visit to Virginia State in Petersburg. I remember that outing like it was yesterday. We all jumped in cars and drove to V.S.U. There must have been at least 10 to 12 of us. It was too cold for soccer so it was just the ping pong, chess and spade teams. We all basically rotated from one team to another so even if it were warm enough for soccer, the head count would have probably been the same. We arrived late Friday night with games scheduled for Saturday morning. The first thing we did was go to the student center and hang out. This was a learning trip if ever there was one. When we arrived at the center, we were met with music and dancing, there was a party going on. In the center of the room was what appeared to be a very intoxicated girl dancing on one of the tables. All she needed was a pole and you would have thought we were in a strip club. I asked someone from the school who the girl was, he said, “Oh, that’s not a girl, she’s a transvestite, a cross dresser”. I’d never seen anyone like that before and it made me realize that I needed to start paying closer attention to who I was talking to. After the party we went to a predetermined dorm and crashed for the night. Oddly enough, directly across the hall was the cross dresser’s dorm room. The noise from across the hall kept us up all night. There were guys in and out of that room all night, all going there for the sole purpose of having their hair braided. In with a fro, 30 minutes later, out wearing braids. We barely got any sleep at all.

The noise must not have affected us because the next day we won three out of four ping pong games, two of four of the chess matches and swept the spades games. It was a very successful outing. Three weeks later V.U. visited our school, but I have only a minute recollection of it. Our next stop was to be Virginia Union. There was a really bad snow storm that weekend so I decided not to go. There were two or three cars battling the elements to get there on that fateful day. I wasn’t able to make that trip, so I only have what I was told to go by. But apparently, the car that Jerome (Alias) and Plastic were in was trying to make it through the blinding snow when it skidded off the road and slid into a guard rail. Neither of them were hurt, so they got out of the car to inspect the damages. They circled the vehicle to see if it was drivable, but as they stood behind it looking it over, another car turned the corner and did exactly what they had done. That car plowed into the rear of their vehicle pinning them between the two bumpers. I was told that Plastic died at the hospital, Jerome had to have one of his legs amputated. I lost a good friend that day, two good friends. I never expected that Jerome would return to school, but he did. I would occasionally see him on crutches making his way to class, but he never came back to the ping pong room.

The school landed in a hot water because of the accident and the fact that it happened while students were participating in unsanctioned athletic events. Ultimately, back then at least, the school was deemed responsible for the students while they were in their care. Needless to say, that no more tournaments took place. I have found no formal record that this incident, or the events leading up to it, ever took place. Of course, I am using aliases to protect the privacy of those who suffered during this tragic time in the school’s history. But the least I can do is memorialize what I know about what took place in writing, here and now.

Ten Plus Two More: The Treasure Revealed

This is Part II maybe you should read Part I first.

“There it is!”, Parlo jumped out of the hole he’d dug and pointed.

– “There what is?”

“What have we been looking for you idiot?”

(Lester, under his breath) “Nobody should call somebody a idiot.”

– “Don’t call me no idiot, I ain’t the one been digging for the past two hours.”

“Alright, you’re not an idiot. The treasure, there’s the treasure. That busted up vase that old man Rosenwald must have buried here.”

– “Who’s old man Rosenwald?”

By now Parlo was visibly getting angry, “Don’t make me repeat myself. Julius Rosenwald, the man who was president of Sears, Roebuck and Co. You know that catalog your folks kept in the outhouse when you were a kid, the one they used to send away for shoes and clothes. That Rosenwald, now do you remember? Old Fleabite Gaskins has been dead almost 50 years but damned if he wasn’t telling the truth.”

– “Oh that guy.”

“Yeah, THAT guy.” Parlo reached down and began pulling out pieces of the broken vase that had been lying buried in the schoolyard for almost 90 years now. “I wonder if the Rosenwald school in Warrenton or Blackwelltown has something buried there too.” A rusted rectangle shaped tin box lay in the rubble, Parlo reached down and picked it up, almost afraid of what he might find inside. The box was coated in some type of wax to keep it sealed. Parlo took out his pocket knife, walked over to the makeshift table they had set up earlier. He sat down on a folding chair and laid the box on the table. Lester came over and said, “Let me get my phone, I want take pictures while you’re opening it, this could be huge.” He took out his phone and started recording. Parlo took out his pocket knife and began cutting around the edge of the box. The seal was really good, you could actually hear a vacuum sound as the box filled with fresh air. Suddenly, the top of the box popped off, it surprised Parlo so much that he dropped the box back onto the table, it lay open before them. Inside the box was nothing but a peace of paper that looked as new as the day it had been written on. “Where’s the treasure? What’s this?! That’s it, a piece of paper. Where’s the treasure everybody said was here???”. This was more an insult to Parlo than anything, “Imagine 90 years ago one of the richest white men in the country coming to this little place and digging a hole and leaving nothing in it but a piece of paper, HA!”. He snatched the paper from the box, looked under it and yelled out again, “WHERE’S THE FREAKIN’ TREASURE!?!”. Parlo unfolded the paper and read the words written there, he read them aloud, “It’s all inside. – j.r.” Parlo was furious by now, “Inside? What the heck does that mean, what’s all inside?”
Lester spoke up, he got it even if Parlo didn’t, “The kids, it’s inside the kids. It’s inside the school. That’s where the treasure is, the world is inside. Our future is inside, that’s what that means. The treasure is the education they got while they were here. The treasure was learning from some of the brightest negro teachers the state had to offer. The treasure was this new building, nothing like they’d ever had before. The experience of being together, playing together. Can you imagine the number of young lives molded right here on these school grounds. Can you imagine how many games of hopscotched were played, how many soft balls were hit, how many knees got skinned. Think of all the PTA meetings, spankings, you name it, it all happened right here. Some of the best teachers taught in this school, Mrs. Hackley, Miss House, Miss Rowe, she got married and became Mrs. Stinson, Mr. Berry, and more. By the way Parlo, that Miss Stinson? she was a good looking lady, pretty. They gave the treasure to the kids and the kids left here and spread it.”

Parlo and Lester may have allowed their imaginations to run away with them.

Parlo stood mesmerized by what Lester was saying, more like preaching. He’d never heard him speak like this before.

Lester walked over to where the old swing sets used to be then continued on, “They gave these kids the building blocks to become pillars of the community. Teachers, lawyers, principals, business executives, carpenters, brick masons, secretaries, house wives all walked down those steps, Parlo, and on into the mainstream of society, able to stand toe-to-toe with the best America had to offer. They had to use hand-me-down books, desks, chairs, stuffed old rags in cracks to keep out the cold. But they persevered, they made it through, they flourished Parlo. They didn’t let a little thing like segregation keep them down, they didn’t let a little thing like Jim Crow hold them back. They were men and women dammit! They kept going, WE kept going. We don’t need no treasure, we got the treasure (putting his finger to his head), we ARE the treasure (pointing to his heart). Us, the ones they didn’t want around no more after slavery, the ones they thought weren’t no good for nothing. Well let me tell you something… a whole country don’t fight a war over something that ain’t worth nothing. You and I attended this school. We’re old enough to remember how it was. That treasure is IN us, Parlo. We have to believe that, we have to know that down deep inside! Julius Rosenwald knew it, Booker T. Washington knew it, our grand-parents knew it. They invested money, time and labor in it, because they believed it. We know it too and it’s our responsibility to keep the treasure that these schools provided from being squandered. We ought to be able to do that Parlo, we have to do it!”.

Moisture had formed beneath Parlo Silby’s eyes as he’d sat listening to Lester. When he stood slowly to his feet, he wiped the moisture away. He turned and looked at the broken down old schoolhouse he’d attended as a child. After what seemed like minutes, he looked at Lester and said, “Com’on man, let’s get outta here”.

~ The End ~

Historic Schools of Fauquier County, Virginia

Name USGS Topo Map
Bethel School Marshall
Blackwell Town School Midland
Cherry Hill School Linden
Crest Hill School Flint Hill
Fenny Hill School Upperville
Foster Hill School Marshall
Goldvein School Goldvein
Good Hope School Somerville
Hitch School Flint Hill
Hume School Flint Hill
Hurleytown School Warrenton
John Barton Payne High School Remington
Lake Field School Rectortown
Landmark School Middleburg
Litchfield School Remington
Merry School Midland
Midland School Midland
Morgantown School Orlean
Pilgrim Rest School Thoroughfare Gap
Piney Mountain School Jeffersonton
Piney Ridge School Remington
Public School Number 18 Marshall
Rosenwald School Catlett
Rosenwald School Warrenton
Saint Stephens School Catlett
Turkey Run School Catlett
Waterloo School Jeffersonton

Rosenwald Schools (may also be listed above as historic)

Name USGS Topo Map
Rectortown School Rectortown
Routts Hill School Opal
Crest Hill School Flint Hill
Greenville School Greenville
Piney Ridge School Remington
Rosenwald School Catlett
Rosenwald School Warrenton
Morgantown School Orlean

Authors Notes: What I found most interesting when researching Julius Rosenwald, was how little money he actually contributed to most school projects. The bulk of the money came from the community. I was a bit surprised by that.
Click on the Rosenwald school names to see further details about each school. Notice how much money each community raised and how much was contributed by the Rosenwald Fund.


Fisk University, 2001, “Fisk University Rosenwald Fund Card File Database”, retrieved 5/22/2015 from http://rosenwald.fisk.edu/

National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2001, “History of the Rosenwald School Program”, retrieved 5/17/2015 from http://www.preservationnation.org/rosenwald/history.html

Place Keeper, 2014, Future Works LLC, retrieved 5/22/2015 from http://www.placekeeper.com/

Virginia Home Town Locator, 2015, “Fauquier County VA Historical Schools”, retrieved 5/22/2015 from http://virginia.hometownlocator.com/features/historical,class,school,scfips,51061.cfm

Wikipedia, 2015, “Julius Rosenwald”, retrieved 5/17/2015 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julius_Rosenwald

Ten Plus Two More: The Legend of the Lost Treasure of Piney Ridge

“Ten plus two more.”

– “What?!”

“Ten plus two more, that’s the answer, ten plus two more!”

– “That’s the answer to what, what the heck are you babbling about?”

“That’s the answer to the question the little boy asked in the story, “The Ransom of Red Chief” by that O. Henry fella. He asked this guy ‘How many does it take to make twelve?’. I read that story last night, I laughed and laughed, but I’m glad I read it now. He was asking a bunch of kid questions and that was one of’em. ‘How many does it take to make twelve?'”

– “How many WHATS does it take to make twelve? You ain’t making no sense. Anyway, this ain’t got nothing to do with what I was talking about, you didn’t let me finish what I was talking ’bout.”

“You ought to try reading sometimes, Lester. How many ANYTHING does it take, that’s what he was asking, how many ‘things’ does it take to make twelve ‘things’. And I just figured out the answer, that’s all.”

– “No thanks, I’ll watch the movie. But I’ll bite. How many DOES it take to make twelve? You’re so smart, I can’t wait to hear this!”

“I just tol’ja, ten plus two. It takes ten plus two more things to make twelve. He was just a little kid see? Look Lester, the kid in the story was only 8 or 9 years old. That means, he probably only knew how to count to ten. This was a long time ago. He probably could only count to ten, so he needed to have things explained in units of ten, something he knew about. So he needed to hear ten plus two more in order to understand how to get all the way to twelve from ten? It’s not like giving directions, you can’t just say ‘you can’t get there from here’. He’s young, he’s looking for answers.”

– “Units of ten? What are you some kind of doctor? Since when did you start speaking in units? Now I gotta find out what a unit is. So it can’t be nine plus three? I don’t get it”.

“No Lester, we’re Americans, Americans count by tens. Everybody counts by ten. That’s the answer we been trying to figure out all this time. OK, lets start over, we were talking about that old wive’s tale legend of the lost treasure, you know, (he cupped his hands over his mouth to make an echo) ‘The Lost Treasure of Piney Ridge’ w-o-o-o-o!”. Then Parlo wriggled his fingers on each side of his face to emphasize how scary it all must be.

– “Yeah, that’s what I was talking about, you were supposed to be just listening”, Lester reminded him.

Piney Ridge School.

Lester Pinkney and Parlo Silby, both long-time residents of Remington, Virginia, both aging as expected, were standing at the bottom of the old Piney Ridge schoolyard staring at the ground. A pile of fresh dug dirt was about 10 feet behind Lester as they talked Lester would walk over and look at the pile of dirt then walk back and survey the ground again. “It’s got to be here, it just has to”. Parlo walked over and patted Lester on the back, “Look, we know its here, we just haven’t figured out where. Now, you know the story, you’ve heard it a thousand times. It all started way back in the early 1900s when Julius Rosenwald realizing that Negroes weren’t being given a fair shot at getting a good education, collaborated with Booker T. Washington and Tuskegee Institute to build schools for Negroes throughout the south, everybody knows that. This was a shared funding program, Rosenwald’s philanthropic fund provided half of the moneys to construct the schools and teachers homes where needed, the labor and the rest of the funding came from the black community and in some cases the local school board”.

– “OK, OK, move along, you sound like you’re reading from a book or something!”, Lester was getting anxious. “Any self respecting American with one of those schools in their county would already know the history of how those schools came about. Don’t let you tell it, it’ll come out all screwed up. Now get to the good part.”

Parlo continued, “Well we already know that part but, as the legend goes, turns out for some reason old Julius Rosenwald, himself, took a special interest in the Piney Ridge school, the one that was being built in Remington. In 1925, when construction was just getting started on land donated by the Davis family, word got around that Mr. Julius was planning to make a surprise visit to the construction site, just to see how things were going. No one knew when, or even if he’d actually be there so people just started hanging around the property during the day, they wanted to get a glimpse of the man building colored folks schools all over the south. This guy was president of Sears and Roebuck, the same guy they ordered clothes from in the catalog, he was coming to Remington!

Except one fella had heard that Rosenwald was known to show up at all hours of the day or night, even when nobody was there. So what he did was camp out down across the road on what later became “The Government Place”, now known far and wide for spying on foreign embassies and such. Fleabite Gaskins has been dead for 50 years but they say he claimed that one night while he was sleeping in that field, he heard a car drive up. He swore that right at the stroke of midnight he saw a white man get out of the car carrying a shovel and a vase or a urn or something. This man walked directly over to the southwest corner of the building, stood right at the cornerstone. He placed his back against the building so he was facing due west. He stood there in the pitch black for a minute, then started walking straight ahead counting as he went. “One”, “two”, “three” and on and on. When the man got to about eight he went out of sight behind a big oak tree. Fleabite was afraid to move for fear that the man would hear him so he kept still and just listened… “Nine… ten… eleven… twelve”. He stopped at twelve, the next thing he knew, he saw the man’s gray suit coat come flying out from behind the tree and hit the ground and then he heard what sounded like digging. That white man was digging in the school yard, I mean he was going at it. He must a dug deep because he kept at it for a good 30 minutes or more, until Fleabite heard what sounded like the man struggling to climb out of the hole he’d dug. He heard the man filling in the hole, that took a while too. When that was done he came back in view all sweaty and dirty carrying nothing but the shovel. Sweat gleaming in the moonlight, he was so wet. The man got back in his car and left. Fleabite crawled out from under his covers, went over to where he thought the man had been digging but couldn’t see any sign of where the ground had been disturbed, no sign at all. It was like the white man had never been there. And that’s it, that’s the story of how the legend got started. Nobody has been able to find any treasure or any sign of a hole since.”

“Somewhere in this school yard is buried treasure, waiting to be discovered. All anybody has to do to get it is figure out where it is by using the information we already know. They say that some students at Liberty High School in that Bealeton, Virginia made a video of how Piney Ridge school came to be and if you watch that video carefully it shows you exactly where that treasure is. It shows exactly where to find it, all you have to do is watch it, study it, they say.”

Parlo got down on his haunches and started doodling in the dirt as he spoke, “We know he did go 12 paces west, taking about 3 foot strides, according to Fleabite Jenkins or was it Gaskins? We also know that, because of the dimensions of the tree shown in the video, he would have come out on the other side of the oak tree and back into Fleabite’s line of site. So that means we know he didn’t keep walking straight the entire time. He must have turned either north or south somewhere between steps 8 and 12. I say he turned at ten, then took two more steps in a different direction. Ten plus two more, if that’s right Lester, ten plus two more if that’s it. Quick! I got it! Fill all that dirt back in, we should start digging right there!”

Just Try Your Best to Stay Alive, Please! (Edited Title)

In the day
Police traffic stop, be ready. Photo courtesy of http://www.jamesdavisdefense.com

First, let me preface this tutorial by informing you that I am, by no means, an expert in survival, legal matters or in law enforcement. I’ve simply been around longer than most people and can impart things that you can do that may help get you to stick around longer too.

Recent events have made it blatantly clear that something has gone wrong in America. Maybe things haven’t gone wrong, perhaps they’ve always been wrong and the things we thought had been addressed and corrected were never really and not even nearly resolved.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that he’d been to the mountain top, looked over and had seen the promised land. Many thought that when a black man became president of the United States, this was a good indication that we’d also reached that same plateau, but no. Every time it seems we reach the top of the mountain and look over, all we ever find is another hill to climb.
Let us hope that this primer can make the trek up the latest hill we see before us, just a little less difficult to scale.

Here are a few things we can do if we look in our rear view mirror and see flashing lights approaching……

1). Pull over immediately. If you can’t pull over immediately because of safety concerns or road obstructions, reduce your speed to a crawl anyway. Use hand signals to let the officer know that you are going to pull over further ahead, then slowly proceed to a safe place to park or curb your vehicle.

2). Stay in your vehicle, don’t run (do not run!) or make any sudden moves as the officer approaches.

3). Keep both hands on the steering wheel.

4). Be especially polite in addressing the officer, smile a lot. Try to find an opening to lighten the mood

5). Don’t ask why you are being pulled over. Let the officer tell you why you are being stopped or let him ask you why you THINK you are being stopped.

This part is important

6). If you know why you were pulled over, say so. Admit that you are aware of whatever the infraction is, honesty might just get you off with a warning. Use phrases like, “Yes officer, I noticed my tail light was out this morning and was just on my way to Wal-Mart to have it replaced”
(But only say that if you aren’t driving in the opposite direction of the nearest Wal-Mart).

7). If you don’t know why you are being pulled over, let the officer know that you are unaware of what the problem is. Do not admit guilt to anything that could get you arrested and especially if you are being arrested, I’m not a lawyer and am not trying to provide you with legal advice, but you’ve watched enough cop shows on TV to know this.

8). Be especially polite in addressing the officer, smile (See #4). Studies show that you are somewhat less likely to be killed at a traffic stop if you don’t give anyone any reason, whatsoever, to kill you.

9).Try to form a bond with the officer as quickly as possible. Studies show that you are more likely to survive a traffic stop if you have had a chance to form a bond with the official standing next to your vehicle. Say little things like, “Nice day isn’t it officer”, “I’m trying to get home to my kids/ grandkids/ family and may have lost track of how fast I was going”. Here’s a few I’ve used over the years that emits harmlessness and creates a bond between you and the officer at hand, “Man, I really like the new cruisers you state troopers /county deputies/ town police are driving this year”, “This state has the best looking uniforms, man I’m glad I don’t live in New Jersey” (Sorry New Jersey, your state trooper uniforms and cruisers are terrible).

10). Don’t argue with the police (this is a tough one and one I’ve not always been able to adhere to). Again, do not argue with the police, be polite, if you can’t smile, always be polite, practice saying things like “sir”, “ma’am”, “officer”, “I’m terribly sorry I wasn’t…(fill in the blank)”, be polite.

11). Don’t run, stay in your car until told to exit. Don’t move yourself or your hands toward the officer or his weapons.

12). I admit that I might have a problem with this one, but if he says “Sir, I’m going to have to cuff you for my own protection” (and even though I see no reason why it would need to be done in a routine traffic stop), comply with the officer. Follow all instructions and commands, be submissive (I can’t believe I’m writing this). Do everything you are instructed to do. It’s not always evident, but the way it’s supposed to work is the good guys are the ones with the badges.

If you follow these simple guidelines, you just may live to see another day. Stay safe out there.

This blog post is designed for general information only. The information presented should not be construed to be formal legal advice of any kind, good luck!

A Good Place to Land

Do you know what the really sad part is? The really sad part is that the story you are about to read is true and the names haven’t even been changed. Remember that old saying before every Dragnet episode? “The names have been changed to protect the innocent”, remember that? Apparently, no one is innocent anymore. See, last weekend I decided to take my truck to the repair shop, the one I’ve been taking it to for the past twenty some years. The shop is only a mile and a half away from my house, so I thought it would be a good idea to drop off the truck, then I’d take a leisurely walk back home. I did that with little or no incident. But while I was walking back home, a motorcycle cop passed by me going in the opposite direction. I nodded politely as he passed, he nodded back and all was good with the world. I’d been home about 3 hours when the shop called to let me know that my truck was ready for pick-up, so I started back on foot to get it. Wouldn’t you know it, that same motorcycle cop came by going in the “other opposite direction”, so I nodded at him again, only this time he didn’t nod back. He just stared intently as he crept by on his Harley. That’s when it hit me! If anything ‘went down’ anywhere near where I was right then, in his mind, I’d be the most likely suspect. There I was, well over 300 pounds, walking down the street in a jogging suit and obviously having no intention of working up a sweat… (Heck, now I’m starting to think I look suspicious.)

“Just out walking officer, no problem here”.

That’s when I subconsciously began scanning my surroundings. I was looking from the sidewalk to the field for a soft, wet spot that I could get to in a hurry. I was looking for a place to land just in case I was slammed, face first, to the ground, like is happening to so many these days. I wish I were kidding, I began to make plans as to what I should do if that cop pulled up along-side me and started to question me for one reason or another. As I politely answered his questions, with a “Yes sir” and a “No sir”, I’d slowly edge my way off the sidewalk, my plan was starting to come together. Moving so inconspicuously that he would not even notice I was moving away from him inch by inch. The next thing he’d know, I’d be standing in the middle of a grassy field shouting my answers back to him, but by then I’d be in a nice soft place for the inevitable “take down”. It sounds a bit funny, almost laughable, but its a downright dirty shame. It’s easy for those unaffected by this new trend to say things like, “he shouldn’t have resisted”, “all he had to do was do what he was told”. That’s so easy to say if it isn’t you being gripped in a choke-hold, or it isn’t you with a knee on his neck and his arms being forced to go in directions they weren’t intended to go.

But this is an argument that can go either way. I’m pretty open-minded, I’m sure that if I were a cop, I’d have a complete 180 degree take on the whole matter. They do a tough job and make tough decisions, no one can deny that. They have to make tough, split-second decisions, the kind that, once made, can’t be taken back. There are no do-overs for our men in blue, so they have to be right the first time. The take-down is one of those decisions that doesn’t seem to fall into the category of being a tough decision to make. Not if the person being taken down is already in cuffs and under control. At any rate, I shouldn’t expect there to be a possibility of my being slammed to the ground by police during a leisurely stroll down the street. A person driving a red sports car should expect to be pulled over more than most when he or she is just out driving. A black man shouldn’t expect to be thrown to the ground when he’s just out walking, not even if they’re in the wrong. This is still America, isn’t it? If it is and I know it is, something is wrong with this picture.

In the day
This may be too far back, but back in the day you could argue with the police man and not be concerned that he might shoot you.

Back in the 70s I had a few run-ins with the police, for traffic violations. I even argued with the police once or twice, got right up in their face. I once tore up a speeding ticket right in front of the deputy who issued it to me and all he said was that he’d been nothing but polite and that he expected the same from me (and oh by the way, “you’re still responsible for paying the fine, torn up ticket or not”). I even argued with a state trooper once and was so vehement that I hadn’t been speeding he finally admitted that his radar gun may have been off by a mile or two and he let me go. That was back when radar guns were a new thing and their accuracy was still in question. But at no time did he or any other officer “fear for their safety” or I for mine, even if we got into a heated debate. I wouldn’t attempt to argue with the police now, “Just tell me what you need me to do, officer” and I’d then do it. If you comply to all commands you are given, the chances of being body slammed are reduced exponentially. At least that has always been my expectation of what should happen. Otherwise, if I do anything other than comply, I can expect to find my face pressing against the pavement.

But the new catch phrase now seems to be, “I feared for my safety”, and it apparently gives anyone with the most minimal authority the right to do just about anything they want. Security guard: “I slammed the child down in the hallway because I was afraid for my safety” or “I feared for my safety or the safety of others and shot him because it looked like he was reaching for my weapon”. Regular citizens on the street haven’t gotten any tougher than the folks in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, have they? They’re probably a lot softer, but I guess, so have the authorities. I can’t fathom sheriffs like Luther Cox or Sam Hall or deputies like Butler Grant or any of the piece officers from that era saying that they did ANYTHING because they were ‘afraid’. I don’t think the words would have come out of their mouths, they were men Dammit! We’ve got county sheriffs, state troupers, Army Generals, presidents, in front of television cameras crying on a regular basis, what the heck is going on? If someone is going to slam me to the ground, they should say they did it because I came at them, not because they were afraid or in fear. Don’t slam a 300 pound man (or a 90 pound girl, for that matter) to the ground, then claim you did it because you were afraid they were going to hurt you. People in fear go in the opposite direction of that which they fear.

The point is that it’s a terrible reason to use to maim or injure someone, someone who was confronted for “looking suspicious” or may have had a fake ID. Can we please stop the madness, I don’t want to have to look for soft place to land as I walk through my own neighborhood. I know that this is all going to fall on deaf ears. If you aren’t in the demographic of the individuals most likely to experience something like this, then there’s no way I could expect you to get it. You won’t get it, not until you or someone you love is affected by it. Unfortunately, this type of trend tends to spread rather than dissipate, so… I suggest we all start looking for a good place to land.

The House on Piney Ridge Road

Miss Landers, turning to Beaver: “Beaver, I hope you still want to be a writer”
Beaver: “Yes Miss Landers, you get yelled at a lot for things you didn’t do, but I still wanna to be a writer.”
Miss Landers: “That’s good Beaver, I’m glad”.
*********************************** © Leave It To Beaver

I heard mom call out from the kitchen, “Supper time! Y’all come to the table”. I jumped up from Daddy’s chair and turned off the TV then headed for the dining room. That’s when I heard Baby Girl let out a strange gurgling noise from my parent’s bedroom. She had been sick all day, wheezing and coughing, she was only two years old. Mama ran past me and went into her room, “Ellsworth!” Dad rushed by faster than I’d ever seen him move. I could hear them fussing over baby girl and whispering frantically, but I heard Mama say, “She’s not breathing we’ve got to get her to the hospital!”. It was only five or six o’clock in the evening but it was the middle of winter and already dark outside.
Dad came out, got their coats then went back and brought the baby out. I and my brother and sister stood in the center of the living room, watching all this transpire in front of us. Mom came out, bent down and spoke to us, “We’re taking baby girl to the emergency room, you all have to stay here, Baby Ray is in charge, ya’ll listen to him. We’ll be back as soon as we can”.

I was petrified, our parents had never left us alone ever before, there was always at least one of them home when we were home. That’s how everyone lived in our neighborhood, mothers stayed home and took care of the kids and the house and the fathers went to work. But the kids were never home alone and just the thought of it scared me to death.
“We’ll be back as soon as we can, lock the door behind us” and they were gone out the front door. I stood there and watched them go down the road toward the church and then stayed to see their headlights go past the church on the paved road to town. “Close the door!” Baby Ray said, then he came over, closed it and locked it himself. Ba-baJean was sitting in Daddy’s big chair, I went over and sat with her, Bay Ray squeezed in on the other side of me. We sat there and didn’t move for what seemed like hours.
“I’m scared”, I said to no one, “When is Mama and Daddy coming home?” – “They’ll be back after they take care of Baby Girl”, Ray said. “Ba-bajean, when is mama coming home?”, I hadn’t gotten the answer I wanted from my big brother so I tried somebody else.
“I don’t know, I want them to come home too”.

We were way too scared to even think about hiding upstairs

Our dinner was still sitting on the dining room table untouched, the TV was turned off. Every light in the house was on, but all you could hear was the quiet of the night. That is, until we heard something! We all heard it at the same time. It sounded like people were walking around in the yard, we could hear their feet clumping about and a low whispered muttering, it almost sounded like there was a party outside that we hadn’t been told about. Every now and then we could feel people brushing against the house, almost like they were pushing and shoving one another, then we knew for sure that was what was happening because between people being pushed up against the house we could hear someone say “Move!, Move!” Then more foot pounding and house brushing against. “Who’s that? What are people doing in our yard?”, I asked. Somebody said “Get up and go look out the window”, I don’t know who said it, I only know that nobody moved out of Daddy’s big chair, we were stuck like glue. After so long we realized somebody had to go look to see what was going on outside, so Baby Ray said, “I’ll go look out the kitchen window”. He got up, went into the kitchen and turned off the lights. Bay-Ray climbed up on the bench beside the table and slid over to the window as slowly and quietly as he could. He reached over and pulled back on the window shade just enough to peer around the corner hoping whoever was outside wouldn’t see him. “COWS! There are a bunch of cows in our yard, must be hundreds of them!” Bajean got up to look, “Yep cows, Where’d all these cows come from?”. I was relieved but still scared, why would there be cows in our yard, we didn’t own any cows. I finally got up and looked outside, there were cows in the front yard, cows in the back yard and cows on either end of the house. There were cows mooing (“Move!”) and pushing and shoving each other AND brushing up against the house.

Just about that time Mom and Dad pulled into the yard, they came in and told us that Baby Girl was going to be OK, she’d had an asthma attack or some kind of fever that, at the time, I’d never heard of before. Dad knew exactly where the cows had come from, he got back in the car and drove up the road. The next thing I knew I saw Mr. Robert Bowen in the yard with a stick, heading his cows back up the road and through the hole in the fence that they’d gotten out through. Swinging his stick in the air, “Get back up there! Come on, get!”. Somehow they knew exactly where “THERE” was and headed back up the road, it always puzzled me how they knew that. Yep, that experience was one for the record books, that frightful night, in the house on Piney Ridge Road.

Post Script

After reading this my mother added some details to the story that I was not aware of…

They did not take “Baby Girl” to the emergency room, they took her to Dr. Ashby’s office. They went inside and dutifully sat in the colored waiting area to wait their turn. The nurse saw that child was having convulsions and ran in and told Dr. Ashby, he came out immediately and to the shock of all there waiting, scooped the baby from my mother’s arms and rushed her into the examination room. (If you’re counting, this is the second time Dr. Ashby blatantly disregarded a Jim Crow law in one of my stories)