Mr. Commenter, (I do have my reasons to suspect he's a man, though he didn't disclose his identity) thank you for your kind words about my family, my father, and my brother Larry who still lives in our family homestead.
My father died almost 14 years ago, and I still miss him. As each day passes, I find new common threads between his life and his values and my own. Too bad I wasn't more aware when he was alive, but I think this is not uncommon. We too often take our loved ones for granted and forget to celebrate them during life. My father was a wonderful man, and I constantly seek ways to leave a legacy of his life -- forget my own.
Allow me to tell an abbreviated story that shapes my life.
My father's family moved to Ellwood City from North Carolina in 1909. His mother was pregnant with him. He was the first black person born in Ellwood City and the first black person to graduate from my alma mater, Lincoln High School. (Go Wolverines!) My father's history and the depth of our roots in Ellwood City have always made me proud. And during my lifetime we have always been treated with the utmost respect -- almost as minor local celebrities.
Here's the story:
I never met my Uncle Lin. Before I was born, his wife murdered him. She slashed him in an artery in his thigh. Though he was rushed to the hospital very much alive, he bled to death. The hospital contacted all of the black families in town, and asked them to donate blood. The hospital refused to give "white blood" to a black patient. In those days, in the early 60's, there were probably only five black households in town. Because of the dearth of "black blood" in town, Uncle Lin died.
I don't think my father ever recovered from that loss. He became a very sad man before I was born.
Uncle Lin's murderous wife would walk past our house daily, and I wasn't permitted to speak to her. My parents didn't tell me why. I suppose they felt I was too young to know the horrible truth. One day, against my parents will, I found the courage to speak to her. "Hello." I spoke tentatively. She looked straight ahead and continued her silent stroll past my house. I never tried again.
When my mother felt I was old enough, she told me the story. "But why isn't she in jail?" I asked her. It was then that my mother told me the perhaps the saddest part of the story. The town refused to arrest her and prosecute a black-on-black crime.
When I tell people this story, they're shocked. They can't believe that in a town in the North such a thing would happen. Black blood, white blood, black-on-black crime, no prosecution. It's outrageous but true.
I write about this story as a stone in the masonry I'm building to honor my father's life. This story must be told, and now I'm telling it. I know I will tell it again and again.
My cousin is now the chief of police in Ellwood City. He wasn't born there, and he didn't grow up there. His great-grandmother was my father's sister. He was born and raised in nearby Pittsburgh, where my Aunt Dorothy eventually settled.
I don't know my cousin very well, but I know that my father would be very proud that a member of our family is the town's first black chief of police. This, too, has been added to the masonry.