Abraham
by sarAdora

~~~

"Has anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
You know, I just looked around and the man was gone."


~~~

Named Sarah for the biblical Abraham's wife and Jean Marie for her mother, Abraham Hale knew there was no other little girl in the world as pretty as his daughter. Of course she had jet black hair; all little black girls had jet black hair. And dark brown eyes - in her father's opinion, the prettiest dark brown eyes that ever looked upon the world. And so pretty, just like her mama, the woman he loved beyond redemption, the woman who gave her life to birth her child and who broke Abraham's heart when he buried her.

"Sarah Jean Marie called to the house the other day," Max told me during our weekly phone conversation. "Her Pa ain't long for this world; his heart can't take 'nother session with the surgeon. I be goin to visit with him afore the week is out."

"Don't you see him every week?" I asked, well aware that Max and Abraham Hale had been friends since their New Orleans days, both originally from Jamaica.

"Twice a week for more years than a body can 'member," he sighed. "Tuesday nights for pinochle - that man's face give away the hands he be holdin and the good Lord knows he ain't a bit like you, Sari girl. That man couldn't cheat to save his life. Then, there's Thursday potluck suppers at our place back in the days when Vi and Glory be out doing what they does together. Only time a man could put his feet up and smoke himself a fine sweet seegar without no woman making a ruckus over the stink. As if the seegars I smoked could stink. I tell you this, Sari girl, I smoked some mighty fine seegars in my time."

"You're not smoking then now, are you?"

"You knows I want to live 'nother 50 years and can't do that if'n Glory or Vi catches me smokin them things."

~~~

I must have been 7 or 8 the first time I saw Abraham Hale and his daughter, Sarah Jean Marie. It was a Sunday and I was eating a late lunch at Molly's coffee shop. The paying diners had already eaten and left, the remaining few of us eating courtesy of Molly's generous heart. I remember staring when a well-dressed black man came into the coffee shop. There were a number of black people in our neighborhood but I think this was the first time I noticed that the man's clothes were "Sunday best." In my mind, folks didn't wear their Sunday best when they ate at Molly's. These were the clothes men wore when they got married or went to funerals. I hadn't been to a "black" church yet so was unaware that they also dressed up to go see God.

It took a few months for me to realize that this was Mr. Hale's only suit and that it was too shiny... all the cleanings and pressings had taken their toll. But that first glimpse of him... a three-piece suit, pin-striped, a starched white shirt and dark tie, a button-down vest, and a watch fob hanging from the vest's pocket... and a bowler hat! Oh that was very very fine, I thought. If I had known the word "dapper," that would have been my description of Abraham Hale that Sunday afternoon. But I didn't know that word so he was looking really fine to my youthful eyes.

And then I spotted the prettiest little girl half-hidden behind him. Her hand was safely tucked inside his larger palm and I thought she looked just like the color of a Hershey bar when Grandpapa Cooperman melted it with sweet milk in a pan over a hot plate in the back of his grocery store. So smooth and creamy looking... so delicious. I wanted to rub my finger over her face and then lick it... maybe she'd taste that way, too. My friend Alli did that once to a chocolate colored boy in first grade. She said he didn't taste like chocolate - just like stinky sweaty boy. But I thought maybe chocolate girls might be different.

Molly saw me looking and shook her head. She must have known what I was thinking.

The pretty little girl was lifted to a high stool at the counter, her legs dangling and slightly swinging. Her eyes lit up when Molly placed a chocolate milkshake in front of her and she turned to kiss her father's cheek as he stood behind her. He returned the kiss, briefly rubbing his cheek against his daughter's face. It was a sweet picture and for a moment, I swallowed hard wondering what it would be like to have someone stand behind me and kiss my cheek.

The man ordered two hotdogs, one with mustard and relish, one without but heavy on the sauerkraut, please. And would Molly be so kind as to cut one into four smaller pieces so his little girl could eat it without getting it on her pretty dress?

He placed a napkin in his daughter's lap and another in the collar of her dress - it also looked like "Sunday best." And then he watched his child enjoy her lunch.

When she finished her meal, Molly said it was on the house, but Abraham Hale gave her a sweet smile and helping his daughter to the floor, he dropped three single, crumpled dollar bills on the counter and thanked her just the same. Molly said it was too much, but Mr. Hale said it wasn't and I got the feeling they had said the same words to each other every Sunday for a long time.

Sarah Jean Marie skipped ahead of her father as they left the coffee shop, thrilled that the second hotdog was safely in his hands and to be eaten later. "When I grow up," she announced, "I'm gonna eat hotdogs every day."

"I 'spect you'll find some other food you'll like jus as well," Mr. Hale said as he took his daughter's hand.

~~~

"So it's his failing heart that's going to kill him?" I asked, saddened that the man who bought his daughter's favorite hot dogs every Sunday was not long for this world.

"I 'spect it's his heart *and* his soul, Sari girl. That man done put up with a lot more than the good Lord intended for any man, black or white or red or yella. He done a lot of good in this here world; time he earned a place at the Lord's side."

"He found good paying jobs for a lot of black men, didn't he?"

"That he did and for black ladies. He gots some of them for white folks, too ya know. Made them storekeepers and managers pay them decent dollars and give the gov'ment their taxes and such. He be a Lincoln in those strange days."

"Remember that sax player that used to play right on Michigan Avenue near the Burberry store that summer I went off to college? Mr. Hale brought him over to the jazz clubs and got him an audition. Whatever happened to him?"

"I 'member him. He was alright for a white boy. He could bend a note, had some blues in him, not too shabby for a sax player. Don't rightly know what happened to that boy. Probly got tired of the sax and moved on. Never heard much after that club burned down. But Abraham... well, he jus kept pullin young folks of'n the streets, tryin to keep them away from the druggies and such. A good man, that Abraham Hale."

~~~

"Anybody here seen my old friend John?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked around and he was gone."


~~~

Sarah Jean Marie Hale married John Joseph Jefferson, the foreman at the loading docks where cattle was shipped for slaughter. Every Sunday, according to Max, John Joseph tied up a big package of steaks and cuts of roast beef for his father-in-law to bring to the weekly pinochle game, the meat shared by all who played. One prime piece of beef was left to the side to go to the winner of their weekly game. John Joseph didn't play pinochle but he accompanied his wife's father.

Abraham Hale wasn't well liked by white employers. He had been beaten time and again for fighting for equal rights and equal pay and equal benefits. John Joseph had muscles of steel and acted as his father-in-law's bodyguard. The big man was a human powerhouse and a devoted husband to his "lil" Sarah Jean Marie. Max said it was a wonder the man had his head on straight... "That Sarah Jean Marie, I tell you no lie. That lil gal gots that John Joseph Jefferson wrapped around her fingers. Never saw nuthin like it. He'd kill for her if she asked him."

"He took his share of beatings, too, didn't he?" I asked.

"He took and he gave back ten-fold and he trust in the Lord to keep his Sarah Jean Marie safe. But when they carted his body off to jail for that big hoo hah down at the yards, well... that was a sad day for the Hale family. He never was quite right after that beatin he took at the hands of the law. I tell you, Sari girl, no man willin to put in a hard day's work for a day's wages ought to have to fight to get a fair share of the good things in life."

~~~

"Anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
just looked 'round and he was gone, the man was gone."


~~~

"Who's paying all their medical bills? Does Abraham's family have health insurance?"

"Marty's got them all covered on his policy. That boy turned out good. Abraham be mighty proud of his grandson. When he finishes doing his practice year at that fancy law place downtown, he be going to work for the city and when he knows what's what around a courthouse, he be followin in his granddaddy's footsteps - makin sure everbody get an even chance at a job. That boy gonna go far for sure."

~~~

"Didn't you love the things they stood for?
Didn't they try to find some good for you and me?
And we'll be free
Some day soon, and it's a-gonna be one day..."


~~~

Cowboy and I lived in the DC area when we were first married. I spent a lot of enjoyable hours visiting all the tourist spots there. A favorite place was Smithsonian House because that's where Cowboy and I met and that's where we were married. The Lincoln Memorial is a vastly beautiful edifice but for some reason - whenever I go inside and view the sculpture of Lincoln - his presence - I'm swallowed up by grief. I don't know why. It's easy to understand people's tears when they view the Vietnam Memorial - it's very current history - but the Lincoln Memorial? Friends have said I feel this way because the man was assassinated. Maybe.

I have visited President Kennedy's gravesite at Arlington and while I feel sadness that he was struck down, it's a sadness for the man. At the Lincoln Memorial, I feel an unexplained but overwhelming grief for our nation.

~~~

"Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him walkin' up over the hill,
With Abraham, Martin and his brother, John."


~~~

World wide, we are fortunate that there are and always will be men and women of conviction. Most of them will remain anonymous; we won't know their names. Because of them, people will have more opportunities for a better life, equal pay, more benefits, more liberties and more civil rights. When people in the United States rally or protest or march or vote or die trying... they are able to do so because of little-known men like Max's friends - Abraham, Martin and John.

~~~

"Fourscore and seven years ago
our fathers brought forth, upon this continent,
a new nation,
conceived in liberty
and dedicated to the proposition that
all men are created equal."
...From The Gettysburg Address
Abraham Lincoln 1863

~ End ~

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