COLUMN SEVENTY-ONE, MAY 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 Al Aronowitz
EULOGY FOR MY FATHER
(Photo by Myles Aronowitz)
(Copyright - 1998 Myles Aronowitz)
As I watched my father gasp and choke out his last breaths, the pain and
confusion that swept me reached so deep that I heard myself calling in words I
hadn't used for years. "Daddy?, I was crying, "Daddy, What's wrong
Daddy, Where are you hurting??
"My stomach?, spat
one tremor, and he turned away still shuddering with pain.
When my sister and I were
young we called our parents, Mommy & Daddy. But as I got to a presumed
adulthood, I modified that address to "Dad". It seemed, I guess, more
But that final moment,
made me reach back frantically, for that little boy again. Because somehow I
felt that becoming the boy again would restore my father to the life long
presence and image I still keep of him
Dreading, I guess the
knowledge his death at 92 gave me. That with his passing I must now
become an adult, A grown man. Because whatever you think, as long as our parents
are with us, we are their children. So I would call relentlessly in my blinding
sorrow, Daddy! Daddy! Until he had disappeared! Gone forever!
I guess this reckoning remains so strong, because I am
already 67 years old. In a life filled with challenge and confrontation. I have
brought nine children in the world, so that I, myself, am a long time father,
and that relationship is not strange to me.
When I lost my mother in
1988, I understood there was an intimacy a knowing of me by someone else that
was lost forever. But at this loss there is another realization, even now
bizarre to me. Because at 67, I have never been without a parent. A point of
origin. A source of Love and shared emotion that we all who can feel the
unparalleled sensitivity that binds us to those who have actually given us the
gift of life, must be understood!
But now, what? Not only
was one of the most precious living sources of memory and affection removed. But
we could not even prove we were once fragile children with the promise of the
world before us, protectively nestled in the arms of some beings we loved as
intensely as life itself.
For me, Coyt LeRoy Jones,
my father, was one of the measures, with my mother, Anna Lois Jones, I used to
judge and understand the world & myself. I thought, for instance, that my
mother was the most beautiful woman in the world. I thought as well, that my
father surely was one of the most intelligent persons in the world. He could
even fix wagons and small airplanes, He knew facts and
stories, histories, and told jokes that obviously
were among the funniest and most wisdom filled in existence.
He used to come in at
night from the post office, when he was driving the parcel post truck, and stand
on the house heating 'registers? we called them, trying to get warm. And he
always had a newspaper under his arm which he would give me for the pictures and
While my mother was open and vivacious, plain spoken and direct, my father with his deep voice, and giant eyes played backup and confirmation for my
'. . .certainly our struggle to know and possess these would transform the world'
She was my social consciousness, he was my earthly guide, how I planted my two
feet on the ground. If my mother nurtured my forming vision, it was my father
who causally insisted that it only had value in the real world.
One thing that will
always animate my deepest memory of my father, is that he had a deep love for
sports. No doubt that is where I got mine, as well as most of our children, who
were outstanding athletes and even now are coaches in several of the city's
schools. He used to take me to see the Newark Eagles, the Black Professional
Baseball team, down at Rupert Stadium, regularly.
We were present that last year when the Eagles won the World Championship
of Black Baseball. I even inherited a baseball, Larry Doby, the second Afro
American in the so called "Big Leagues," fouled off in 1947. It is still
labeled, the date, the place, the player, and the father who grabbed it and the
awed son who witnessed this grand event.
My father would take me
to the old Grand Hotel on West Market Street, where the ball players hung out.
Can you imagine the wonder and amazement, as he introduced me to Doby,
Monte Irvin, Len Pearson and the others who very soon would be relocated away us
by commerce to the Major Leagues.
My father's name for
me, until the very day he died, was McGee. That's right, appropriated from the
old Fibber McGee and Molly radio show. So you see how early he began to
appreciate my Literary potential. Even in his last years, when he called our
house, my wife said he always asked, "Is McGee, there??
Coyt Jones came to Newark
from Hartsville, South Carolina
But my father worked in
the Newark Post Office 37 years, retiring in 1968. He was a member of the NAPE,
the National Association of Postal Employees, and I still have vivid memories of
going to some of their meetings. And how they would begin the larger meetings
with the Negro National Anthem. I met Effa Manley, the owner of the Newark
Eagles, and Tom Pettigrew, the national head of the NAPE. I was taken regularly
to the bowling tournaments that his Bowling Team sponsored. The team was called
The Nemderolocs, Colored Men, spelled backward.
In those halcyon days of
the 40's there were always social gatherings parties, organizational meetings
at our house. Bingo games and Parcheesi, together my parents were a highly
sociable couple, entertaining guests, going to happy cocktail parties and
belonging to various clubs and organizations that aimed to improve the lives of
Afro Americans at the same time create some fellowship and good feeling.
One of those, The Student
Council, an early scholarship granting organization, with some of their friends.
Likewise the legendary Bridge Club actually began as a series of Bridge Playing
parties these friends sponsored. I was always, with them surrounded by their
friends, their gatherings, their organizations, their serious and light
discussions and repartee.
And as the father is the
son and the son the father, when my wife Amina and I embraced our African
Heritage as Cultural Revolution for the Civil Rights Movement in the United
States, at her example my father began to make, of all things, Dashikis in a
small store he opened to express the new learning of Africa and Liberation.
Why this was, perhaps is
this. I had never seen my father so fiercely angry as he became after Newark's
1967 Rebellion, when he witnessed the results of the beating I had been given by
But on the day, after the
venue for my trial had been changed to Morristown and I was confronted by an All
-White Jury, whom I addressed as
"My oppressors Not my peers!" and turned and started to walk out of the
court, I was knocked flat by a Negro Policeman named Black, who told me "he
was in my corner." Then had my bail revoked and locked up for contempt. For
the first time I heard profanity leap from my father's lips as they led me
away. It was at that point I think that another consciousness deepened in him
that broke through his usually temperate demeanor.
I can confirm this
because a short time later, when my parents were told that I would go to jail
for three years with no parole, Coyt Jones said, "and if they put you in jail
you should go up there and organize the prisoners to riot!"
My mother, gasping and
probably shocked said, I should be careful more than anything or they might try
to kill you!
One photo my father
particularly was proud of was one published in Ebony at the height of the
movement which showed him with his grandson, Ras, perched on his shoulder,
both in Dashikis.
And then when my mother
died, my father who had sprung from South Carolina Methodists and seldom came to
Bethany became one of the most missionary of Bethany's Baptists and his
passing caused, as Rev Howard said, "one of the lights of the church to go
But the deepest and most
important element I perceived from both of my parents and my father in his own
constant but understated way, was the deep felt and continuously reconfirmed
base of all this, was the family. That it was inviolable and invulnerable. That
no matter what ignorance or stupidity, no matter the gross inhumanity and
foolishness of this place where we lived, the greedy vainglorious deceit of
national oppression, racism, segregation, discrimination, that I was told each
night at the dinner table existed to humiliate and exploit us, that we were yes,
Colored People, and we were intelligent, strong and beautiful.
And had always been.
And that no matter who or what might dispute this, they were fools and liars and evil. And that, no matter all of this ugliness and dishonesty and repression that confronted and surrounded us, we were never to doubt and never to submit, and that very simply one day we would prove, we colored people, that we were finally stronger than all of it. That one day, if there is truth, if there is beauty, and if they be the most universal description of God, then certainly our struggle to know and possess these would transform the world. ##
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