Daddy Tended the Fireplace
Black history month tribute to my Daddy
February, Black history month, and Super Bowl Sunday are all reminders of the dull, now tolerable pain of grief. My father made me think in a way that no other man ever has or will.
I miss having his full attention and hearing his wisdom. He listened, which made me know I was special, loved, and appreciated. It was like the creator sent him just to be my father. He is the expert responsible for taking care of the fireplace at his other family house, but he is gone now. the last day I spoke to him.
After he died, she exclaimed “The great Chuck Kelly”. I did not understand or care what she meant. The fallacy of greatness was all in her mind. He was a man with hopes, dreams, failings, and flaws. He was respected by some, hated by others, and jealous of what they perceived as his success. Observers don’t know how much collateral and human carnage is incurred when you make a contract with the devil.
Now, sixteen years later, I see him in my mind’s eye shuffling the creosote while the fireplace screen is open. I no longer break down into uncontrollable tears when I think of his memory. When he tended the fire, it was as if he heard the choir song, accompanied by the periodic drum crackle as the logs burned. The flames of red, yellow, orange, and blue-black danced to the song only the fireplace, and Daddy shared.
I failed to hear the lyrics of the fire but felt rhythm and warmth as it moved upward, filling the room. He would take hours to select logs in the backyard. Speaking aloud “too much moisture will alter flame of fire as he put some logs aside. He was not perfect, never apologetic for his beliefs, nor was a hypocrite.
Black men got no place in the army. When I asked why he served in military service. He responded to what he felt was important “I don’t want my grandson going into the military. I still suspect his experiences growing up, in the military, melancholy moods, are rooted in his abuse of alcohol.
Are you going to watch the football game? I asked “I care nothing about that.” His grimace further confirmed his lack of interest in the Super Bowl Sunday football game.
When I was five years old, he would call me to change the channel on the black and white television set. I think about how he watched baseball games on Sundays. Looking forward to getting that smile of approval. Once I brought cigarettes, a book of matches, or a can of beer. I always enjoyed being around him and serving him.
Never will I know why I sensed weakness, vulnerableness which made me afraid for him. I believed he need protection that only I could give and understand.
Gingerly, he used the fireplace poker to push the log into the position he wanted. It reminded me of how he tended to me.
The logs floor in the fireplace he moved as if he heard the melodious needs of the fire. Father’s insight into logs figuratively blocked my thinking he would reposition and move like logs in the fireplace. He understood my emotional sensitivity and predicted the pain I would experience. He predicted that my younger sister would not only hurt me but beat me.
You will learn to let go of things that you don’t have control over. He said to me. I had unrealistic expectations of people and their actions. There was a wide full tooth smile directed toward me. You always fight for the underdog, he said. He neither condemned nor condoned my feelings.
Daddy only used the fireplace tongs when amber flames came out past the closed screen. When a log fell out-of-place away, a potentially unsafe fire could start. He choreographed the dance floor of logs flames, beautiful, and all was in control again.
When my heart fire was dying, I talked to him. His opener was always “everything is going to be alright.” I seldom agreed with his famous statement of introduction.
Our talks positioned me in a mental-emotional place, supplying me with the oxygen I needed. In the same manner, he moved the logs in the fireplace so they, too, received oxygen, fuel for the fire. Perhaps because as children we both suffered from asthma. We both respected the relationship between life, breathing, and oxygen.
Tending the fireplace, he was never the buyer, always the mediator. When he stoked the fire, the warm air moved around the room. The soft flames made the perfect medium for a nap. Many conversations insights were shared in various settings, but one’s by the fireplace remains most vivid in my mind and heart to this day.
Why are you interested in buying properties? The land is a legacy that never loses value, it is an opportunity for the future, he said. I resented the interruption of my time with him. People talked about articles, and issues for consideration of placement in the Citizen newspaper. I asked arrogantly. Why do you let any old body submit stories in the newspaper? He responded that every story deserves to be heard. It is the only way to protect freedom of thought and speech.
“America’s most progressive community newspaper.” The publication became the voice of the African-American communities in Benton Harbor, Highland Park and Detroit.
Sixteen years later I miss him so much, but the pain is dull, but never completely gone. He no longer tens the fireplace. But I will always remember and appreciate how he tended my flames, nightmares, fears, hopes, dreams, and disappointments. Often, he spoke of plans opportunities, and possibilities. He was man, enough to verbalize regret at neglecting to desert my sisters and my mother. I blamed the white woman, never him I could not afford to. I did not need any validation, wisdom, or acceptance from her.
I did not understand until 10 years ago what he meant. When the ashes settled, and they buried him, I came to terms that he made no provision for a legacy for me his first family, and all his children. If he meant to, my sisters and their mother never made us aware of or hinted that we, the first children, protected under marriage, we’re entitled to or going to be any part of his legacy aside from the mention in the obituary.
The other family sold the paper. No comment was all that I was told. The entitled race got the material things. I hope they have some happiness.
Daddy, thank you for tending my fireplace flames. No regrets would not change a thing. I wish other daughters had or have fathers that tend their fireplace the way you did mine.