Wednesday, April 22, 2009

From My 'Hood

I'll branch out from the family on this one and give you a sketch of my neighborhood.

The East St. Louis neighborhood I grew up in was called "Pollock Town." I didn't know the word was a slur to Polish people until I wrote a feature story in the Belleville News Democrat on Kermit "Boto" Haynes. My editor called me on the word, thank goodness, and it was abbreviated to 'Lock Town.

Anyway, it was a decent neighborhood during a time when neighbors knew you, your parents and your siblings. And, yes, adults were allowed to scowl at you as if they were your parents. There were many influences in that 12 to 14 block area.

There was, for instance, "Boto's," the local shoe shine parlor run by Kermit Haynes -- who was blind. He taught me and others how to shine shoes, but more important, he taught us what it meant to be a young man in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He had great wisdom and he was always there to listen to whatever was on your mind. He counseled and steered many of us away from the bad influences, and expected us to make something out of ourselves. He also would ban you from the shoe shine parlor if you acted like a dam fool. Before his blindness, Boto was a talented musician with the legendary jazz group, the St. Louis Crackerjacks, which did a lot of gigs in Kansas City during the Count Basie era. His brother was internationally famed concert pianist, Eugene Haynes. Eugene was a very nice man who marveled at knowing that he was the topic of a discussion I had, as a reporter, with former British Prime Minister, Edward Heath. (to be detailed later)

Other influences included the Y.E.W.O. (Youth Educational and Welfare Organization), one of the places where we would hang out and do all sorts of things. It was the main stage to showcase our talents in singing and dancing. It's where it all began for Phil Perry and the Montclaires! YEWO founder Larry Taylor was a reporter for the East St. Louis Crusader, and probably had something to do with me going into the field journalism. I recall going out on a few stories with him -- one a homicide. But as we found out later in life, he was not a man to be trusted.

Also among the influences in 'Lock Town was "the corner," where the lessons of street life were taught; "red hill," a toxic dump site that we used as a place of adventure; and Starlight Skating Rink, where I was taken to see Ike and Tina Turner. The neighborhood also had its fair share of accomplished people, including top city political leaders like Ester Saverson and Charles "Jew Baby" Myles. There were prominent teachers and doctors, too, as well as the city's best known undertaker, Marion Officer, whose son, Carl, would later become mayor of the city.

As a newspaper boy, I knew my way around the neighborhood. I made it a point to always be in good stead with the owners of local grocery stores and confectionaries. I even worked in a few of them, including Mr. Crisp's Confectionary and Margolis Grocery Store. It was always a pleasure to fill up on Root Beers along the way, either at Billups, a local pharmacy, or at Hudlins, a relative of the Hollywood movie duo, the Hudlin Brothers.

"The Bricks" were also a part of my 'hood. Long before people lived in public housing -- the projects -- there were the bricks. It wasn't pretty, but it was the reality of the times. As I look back on 'Lock Town, I can see that it was a diverse neighborhood, meaning that the poeple were at all economic incomes and status. Growing up in such an environment, I think, helped to prepare me for what would come later in life: a society with a broad spectrum of people, places and things.

It's a place that will live on forever in my mind, thoughts and actions.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Snapshot Number Two

I think you can tell a lot about a person if you know a little about the people who rear them.

My parents were hard-working people. Without ever saying it, they set the tone for what was expected in a life of work. My late father was a classic entrepreneur. Known throughout East St. Louis as the owner of "Honey Dew Hamburgers," (that's where I got my nickname, Honeydew) he was a genius. Ray Kroc may have made a fortune from his burgers, but they couldn't touch my dads. A fun-loving character and a committed father, he always stressed the value of education. He was a star pitcher on the Negro League circuit, (he could have played pro according to our neighbor, Negro League legend Sam Taylor) but it didn't happen. He did, however, produce at Triple Crown-winning Khoury Leaguer, me, who was destined to make it to the majors. That didn't happen either. But teaching me how to learn was one of his biggest gifts to me. (you'll have to wait for the book to hear more)

My mother, who we currently deem as a diva, is what every mother strives to be: loving and caring. As her "only son," she showed me, by example, how a lady earns a reputation for style and class. A beautiful and woman and a determined provider, she instilled the importance of respect -- for myself and for others. And if that respect wasn't properly shown, she was pretty good at placing the leather on the rear end. (sometimes a switch) As the #1 cashier at B&H Meats in East St. Louis, she was known city-wide for her quick wit and pleasant demeanor. All that experience has made her a top flea market saleswoman, whose never too far away from a stroll down the "runway" during her fashion diva moments.

Again, if you look at those who brought me into the world, you will see how I've acquired my outlook on the world. In a nutshell, it's work hard, do something significant, and have some fun!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Snap Shot

While my personal profile shares basic information about me, here's a little more.

A native of East St. Louis, I'm the only boy in a family of six. Yes, growing up with five sisters was interesting. I'm sure it had a lot to do with how I relate to women. Even though I didn't spend much time around the house as they watched "Dark Shadows" or the "Patti Duke Show," it wasn't a bad thing to see the girls in the neighborhood swing in and out of my home.

Like many boys back then, sports ruled the day. Living across the street from the 'playground,' it was easy to spend the entire day emulating Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle or Johnny Unitas. If it wasn't sports, then it was practicing to be the next Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, or James Brown. The neighborhood was full of talent, and we were always anxious to show it off.

Growing up in East St. Louis says alot about who I am -- and who I have become. There were many lessons learned. As I continue to write in this space, I'll share with you some of those important lessons.

Stay tuned.

False Start

Okay, so I made a false start with my first blog. (the title and the text were combined in the lede; just corrected.) Track runners make false starts, too, but they get do-overs. So I will get my do-over in the pipeline soon. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Getting Out of the Blocks

I'm here, finally. No longer will I urge others to create a blog and not have one myself. I've thought about it for a long time, so I'm way overdue. As I've noted on Facebook, a blogger needs to be established before he or she starts to spout off about the issues of the day. So in the coming days, I'll give you some information on who I am and what I'm about. In the meantime, I'll work on setting up my blog spot. I think my title page says it all: I'm stilllearning, everyday. So I hope to share with you what I've learned, and observed, over a career of some 26 years, and a life of 52 years.This should be fun.