Just like his father, our father worked for the United States Postal Service as a mail carrier. As children, my sister and I imagined our dad as you would John Henry or Paul Bunyan. He was a black man that carried America’s mail by the ton, through rain, sleet and snow. With his carrier bag slung over his shoulder and our needs on his back, he walked this entire city. He knew the streets and sidewalks, homes and addresses, the people and faces that made up Cleveland and our Buckeye neighborhood.
One day as my father was eating his meal in his powdered blue post office shirt and navy blue cardigan, I watched him, patiently waiting for my chance to ask him something.
“What’s up boy?” he said in his familiar way.
Just when I started to go into my pitch, my kid sister interrupted, “Damien wants this stupid, ugly jacket with yellow sleeves. They aint gone do nothing but knock him upside his fat head and take it.”
When she was done, she stuck out her tongue. “Gurrrrlllll if you don’t shut up and eat your damn food I know something!” Mom was a disciplinarian especially at the dinner table.
I ignored her shenanigans and stay focused on the goal, which was to get “geared up” for my birthday. I went in with, “Dad I think I need a new coat.”
Looking at my mother, then back at me, he said in a perplexed tone, “Why you say that son?”
“Because the one I got is old, ugly and it doesn’t keep me warm any more."
My mother shook her head, rolled her eyes and said, “He does need a new winter jacket.”
I continued my pitch. “Man, you should of seen the new starter jackets at the mall today.”
“Oh yeah?” he said.
“Yeah! They got the new pull-over ones, with different color sleeves!”
“Whud? COLORED SLEEVES -- huh!” he said mockingly.
“You should have seen the one I want, though. It’s black with gold sleeves and Steelers on the back in block, gold letters.”
My father said abruptly, “Steelers – you mean the Pittsburgh Steelers?!” Our father is a Browns fan and is all about the Cleveland Brown vs. Pittsburg Steelers rivalry.
“Yeah – the Pittsburgh Steelers! They got the scarf, hat, gloves and jersey to match.”
He took another bit of his food as he contemplated my pitch. My father had this way of not saying yes or no at the moment you asked for things. He chewed his Oxtails and rice, wiped his mouth and said. “Okay son, we shall see. We shall see.”
The final score read 17-9 Cleveland and my father was excited about the win: "Wroof, Wroof, Wroof, Wroof..." He had this way of turning our living room into the "Dawg Pound" when the Cleveland Browns where playing, filling the space of our two bedroom upstairs flat with family and friends.
That year my 13th birthday was the same day of the Browns vs. Steelers rivalry and our downstairs neighbor came up to watch the game with us. "Wroof, Wroof, Wroof, Wroof..." they chanted in unison.
"I can't believe you were crying over that piece of toilet paper your wearing son!" My father said as he shaped his fingers like tweezers pulling at the sleeve of my brand new Rod Woodson away jersey.
At the beginning of the game, Mom and Dad presented me with my birthday gift – the Pittsburgh Steelers jersey I wanted. At the end of the game, I was handed a shopping bag and inside was the Steelers jacket. My eyes lit up with glee.
"Try it on," my mother said as I pulled the jacket out the bag. In the sleeves of the jacket were the hat, scarf and gloves with the gold fingers to match. My father teased me: "Boooo". As our neighbor went to leave he said, "Nice jacket but the Steelers Suck! Happy Birthday." He gave me a wink and a soft jab in the arm. He put a 5 dollar bill in my hand before he left.
“What time is it ?!" my father said in a panic. "I gotta catch my numbers!" He played the number everyday faithfully at the neighborhood check cashing storefront.
"Can I go ?" I asked.
“Sure son” he said.
“Can I go to hot sauce Williams? Mr.clemens gave me five dollars" I added.
“Okay let me get my coat.” He said. “
I want polishboy and fries!” said my kid sister.
I was already to go. I had on my new Pittsburgh Steelers jacket, hat, scarf and gloves. Walking down the back steps, I followed my fathers lead out the door and into the neighborhood.
Damien Ware has organized as well as hosted various public performances and open mics and facilitated creative writing workshops for all ages. A zine-maker and poetic video blogger, Ware loves to share his talent for writing with the community, through self-publishing and public / web-based performances. He holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Wayne State University and a Bachelors Degree in African American Studies from Eastern Michigan University. He is a husband and father of three and writes daily.
Visit Literary Cleveland's Who We Are, Where We Live online anthology for more from the Buckeye/Shaker community.
Community Anthology Table of Contents
About the program
Who We Are, Where We Live is a free community writing program giving voice to people who live and work in the Buckeye/Shaker community. Participants write stories, learn about their neighborhood, and share with their neighbors. Annually, selected writings are published here in an online anthology and presented at a final reading and celebration.