Thursday, May 17, 2018

RIP Coral Calloway

Two very rare things happening to me today. 1. I'm taking a personal day off. And 2. I'm going to a funeral. Folks who know me know that I rarely call off work. Unless it's weather related or I'm knocking on death's door, I don't take days off. I need the money.
     And I'm not really a funeral guy. The last funeral I went to was my eldest brother's and that was almost ten years ago. He was also the last of my close relatives to pass on. I have no parents, grandparents, or siblings left. Just little ol' me. 
     But this funeral is for someone who, while we butted heads more than a few times, I considered a friend. She was my Legion post's bartender, Coral Calloway. She ran our bar for a long time.
     By her admission, she was a piece of work. Headstrong, opinionated, said whatever was on her mind. She had no problem barring people. She barred her own sister, her best friend and your's truly for a couple weeks. Because of that I can count how many people she threw out on two hands with fingers left over.
     She ran a tight ship, but she loved a good party. Coral's idea of a good time was a bar full of people laughing and talking, drinks flowing, food on the table, and Earth, Wind and Fire on the jukebox.
    Coral loved all the Pittsburgh sports teams, but she especially loved the Steelers. She threw an annual Steeler party at the post where she put up black and gold all over the place and her voice was usually the loudest in the bar when the boys scored or when Big Ben threw a pick. She was not a fan of Ben Roethlisberger.
    I went to her viewing after work yesterday. There was a nice turnout of family and friends, the Legion was pretty well represented. And the funeral home did a good job laying Coral out. She was dressed in black and gold and her coffin was covered in Steelers gear. Just the way she would have wanted it. Her family is asking guests to wear black and gold to the funeral. Gives me a chance to break out my new Stiller jersey.
     Coral continued working for us-- for no pay, by the way. She was a volunteer-- despite enduring great physical pain and she'd foregone getting much needed surgery. She was stubborn like that. But she's feeling no pain now.  She's probably in Heaven cussing somebody out right now.  She had a mouth on her. But she was good people. She worked hard all her life, brought a lot of money into our bar, and it will be hard to replace her, if that's even possible. RIP Coral.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mother's Day 2018.

Being that today is Mother's Day, happy Mother's Day to all the women who've been graced with the greatest honor a woman can have.
     An honor that confers great joy and pride, but also comes with equal pain, sadness, frustration, craziness and a range of emotions. With this honor comes the unique privilege of raising offspring.
      The creating of life within yourself, seeing that life born, grow, live, and ultimately make a way for itself. As a man, I can never earn that title, but I can respect those who have.
     To those who have had the title of Mother bestown upon you, whether by accident or by design, you have my undying respect.
      I've told my story about my mother, the master gardener without portfolio, the church choir singer, the housekeeper, the numbers player, the fisherwoman, the one and only Lily Brice who shuffled off this mortal coil back in 1985. 
     I remember the day well. It was Father's Day, 1985. I was on the USS California, CGN-36. We were on a WestPac deployment in the Indian Ocean. I was getting ready to go to work, when I got a message to report to the chaplain's office. 
    When a sailor gets a message to see the chaplain, it means only one thing. Somebody died.  I go to the chaplain thinking it might have been my father, who was doing poorly.  I was shook when he told me that the Red Cross sent a message to the ship saying that Lily Brice had died.
     I did what any Mama's boy did. I cried my eyes out. Here was this badass, tatted up Shellback bawling like a school girl who found out his mother had passed on.  I dried my tears, got my emergency leave orders and left the ship that night.
      So began a 12,000 mile trip from the Indian Ocean over 4 days via 3 ships, 2 helicopters, 3 planes, with stops in: Diego Garcia; Philippines; Guam; Hawaii; Ontario, California;  San Francisco and finally, Pittsburgh.  I figured that I wouldn't get home in time to see the funeral, so I told the family to go on without me.
      So I never got to say goodbye to my mother.  I spent 30 days at home in mourning, and glad that I had a respite from deployment life. I eventually retraced my steps and made it back to the ship.
     But before I joined the service, a relative told me to make sure I took care of my mother.  I took that advice. I made sure a portion of my pay went home to my mother for her to use however she wanted. It was a significant dent in my check and I found myself broke between paydays a lot. I could have used that money I sent home, but I dared not take it back.
      Every month, she got $100 from me. I didn't know nor care what she used it for. It was my way of paying her back for all she did for me.
      She supported me in so many ways. She saw me off with tears in her eyes when the recruiter came to take me to the Federal Building for my induction. She came to my graduation from boot camp. She came to Newport News to witness the Vinson being commissioned. She even hung up on me when I told her that I was calling her from Fremantle, Australia and the call came close to $100. She bragged to her choir buddies when an Australian family who was escorting me around Perth contacted her to tell her what a nice and courteous son she raised. 
     I just wanted to make sure that she would be taken care of while I was gone.  And now I miss her 33 years on.
     Thank you, once again, Lily Brice. 1927-1985. Resquiat in Pacem.  And may light perpetual continue to shine upon you and the rest of your sons and daughter.
     Pray for your lone surviving son, that he may continue to live as you taught him, a life worthy of your approval.