The ashes from Uncle Mickey’s flailing cigarette flew to my crisp white oxford shirt. I calmly brushed them off and cleared my throat. His tirade continued.
“Don’t ya get it? Boys like you with no daddy have a name. You’ll always be associated by that name. Don’t think for a second by workin’ at that hoity toity restaurant you’re special. You’re nothin’ and you always will be.”
“I’m different Uncle Mickey. I’m going to break the cycle in this family. I’m going to work and stay in college. I’m not going to hang in the bars like the rest of the relatives. My name won’t be on the police blotter, it will be on the Dean’s List.”
I spoke with confidence but my gut quaked. Uncle Mickey had a lot of facts to support his soliloquy. My mom was often out in the bars as were her siblings, including her brother, Mickey. My dad was a name on my birth certificate. Grandma’s house was where I slept, but my heart beat for greener pastures.
“Your time in the bathroom stinks just as nasty as mine Bobby Kellogg. Don’t forget it.”
The force of his finger burned my chest as the cigarette nearly missed my shirt. I let him walk away and mumble as he went to grandma’s fridge for another beer. I grabbed my wallet and let the screen door’s bang have the last word.
My ten speed was one of my many escapes to a better life. No matter my last name, my parental background, my daily destinations affirmed me. My church family did everything but petition the court to adopt me. My bike was a gift. When I graduated from high school the youth pastor and his wife were the only ones to throw a party, and all of Squirrel Hill Central Assembly showed up. They gave references to the community college and I won scholarships. The head of the deacon board was the owner of the prestigious Hilltop Inn. Mr. Peterson gave me a busboy job at the hotel restaurant. I was determined to break the literal mold that was choking my family.
“Robert, you’re early! Good thing, Mr. Peterson came down to let us know that traveling preacher your church is hosting this week is having dinner here tonight. The whole church staff, the preacher, his family, and Mr. Peterson will be here. Can I count on you, son?”
My immediate supervisor, Mr. Parker, gave me a wink as he tossed me my clean black apron. We both knew his question was rhetorical. I was so thankful for work and provision I would’ve cleaned a toilet with a toothbrush if someone asked.
I assisted with napkin folding, dish washing, table clean up and staff encouragement as the night wore on. We knew the church revival services would last until at least nine, so we expected a late dinner rush. Mr. Peterson phoned ahead saying the service was anointed and everyone was famished. We had ten minutes until Brother Waters and company arrived.
“Okay troops, we look sharp. We can do this. You’ve done a great job so far.”
Mr. Peterson flagged me to come over as soon as everyone was seated. Pastor Waters was in the restroom.
“I have to run to my office for a couple minutes. Can you make sure Pastor orders whatever he likes, and that he does not pay a cent, not even for tip, okay? He is my guest. I’ll make sure the staff is rewarded for good service.”
I nodded and started pouring ice water in the shiny glasses. I greeted each person at the table whether I recognized them or not, and most everyone commented on my friendliness or neat attire. As I poured the last of the water, a booming voice startled me.
“You! I know who you are!”
The finger wasn’t hitting my chest like Uncle Mickey’s, but it was directed at me just the same. I put the glass down. I tried not to let my rising nerves show.
“Yes, yes! I know whose boy you are!”
My head throbbed with all the adjectives I’d heard over the years describing my lineage. Pastor Waters didn’t let my stammering stop him. His hand stretched towards mine for a firm shake.
“You’re God’s boy! The sky’s the limit for you. Nothing will stop you. Nothing.”
I’m pretty sure my grin lit my ride to grandma’s house.
*Based on a real quote I read years ago in a Pentecostal Evangel.
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