Fools Never Raise Their Thoughts So High

Overview

"Fools Never Raise Their Thoughts So High" is a humorous look at the life of my father, Robert Lloyd Johnson. He and my mother, his wife, born Lois Ethel Thompson, raised four children in Harlem (Manhattan) and the Bronx, NY from the 1940's through the 1960's. I always considered him a wise and witty person who had a strong sense of pride, and valued his role as a husband and father. He loved to laugh, he loved to listen to music, he loved to read, he loved to dance, he loved to entertain and be entertained.

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Overview

"Fools Never Raise Their Thoughts So High" is a humorous look at the life of my father, Robert Lloyd Johnson. He and my mother, his wife, born Lois Ethel Thompson, raised four children in Harlem (Manhattan) and the Bronx, NY from the 1940's through the 1960's. I always considered him a wise and witty person who had a strong sense of pride, and valued his role as a husband and father. He loved to laugh, he loved to listen to music, he loved to read, he loved to dance, he loved to entertain and be entertained.

The title of the book comes from the fourth verse of the hymn by Isaac Watts, "Sweet Is the Work, My God, My King." Daddy repeated that line very often. He frequently quoted lines from poems, hymns, the Holy Bible, and other literary works. "Slick" from Sugar Hill was his nickname as he grew into manhood. His most often used words were, "fool, fools, and foolish." He used them when talking to us at home about others.

When people talk about my father, there is always a smile on their face. I sincerely hope you can say that same about your Dad and the men who influenced your life. Enjoy! - The author, Lloyd R. Johnson

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781452070148
  • Publisher: AuthorHouse
  • Publication date: 2/4/2011
  • Pages: 64
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.15 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Fools Never Raise Their Thoughts So High

The Wisdom and Wit of a Window Washer
By Lloyd R. Johnson

AuthorHouse

Copyright © 2011 Lloyd R. Johnson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4520-7014-8


Chapter One

Slick

" 'Twas a balmy summer evening, and a goodly crowd was there," is the first line of the poem by Hugh Antoine d'Arcy, "The Face Upon the (Barroom) Floor." But, Daddy always began it with, "'Twas a cold December evening and a goodly crowd was there." He would continue with the rest of the poem word for word. He loved to recite poems, monologues, and dialogues. "The Face ..." was one of his favorites. It became one of my favorites, too. He would always let out a shriek, punctuating the last line of the poem. "With a fearful shriek," Daddy lets out a shriek and continues, "he leaped and fell across the picture — dead."

Reflecting on life with my father, as I grew from infancy into adulthood, is relaxing, amusing and stress relieving. There are times when I'm brought to tears, times when I laugh out loud, and other times when all I can say is, "Wow! He really had insight." He had strong religious opinions, political opinions, and opinions about the social fabric of America and the world.

As you read further I hope you can hear the music and feel the beat. Listen carefully. You'll hear the blues, jazz, pop, and some calypso. As you read, imagine Jimmy Rushing singing, "Good Morning Blues," in the background. Or maybe it's Ivory Joe Hunter singing, "Since I Met You Baby." I hope you feel the tap dancing of the Step Brothers or the tap and stomp of Peg Leg Bates. When you do, keep the rhythm and keep reading. I'll give you prompts here and there. But Daddy has a rhythm that's uniquely his. Daddy played a little boogie woogie on the piano and taught us kids to play boogie woogie too. Listen! Do you hear it?

"Duma duma duma duma, Duma duma duma duma, Bomp bomp_bomp bomp"

Daddy came to America from La Ceiba, Honduras in Central America with his family at around age six. Daddy, Robert Lloyd Johnson, had only an eighth grade education but he read everything he got his hands on. It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized how much poetry and other things he must have read and committed to memory. Sometimes we would hear him recite only a line or two from some poem. I never tried to figure out where the lines came from until now that I am retired. He would also recite long poems, monologues and dialogues. In high school, I recognized some of the poems he recited at home from the poems we read in American and English literature.

I was riding in my car one day when I remembered two lines of some poem Daddy would recite from time to time that always intrigued me. The lines are:

"Fools never raise their thoughts so high,

Like brutes they live, like brutes they die." I went to google.com and found those lines were from the fourth stanza of an eight stanza hymn by Isaac Watts, "Sweet is the Work, My God, My King." The hymn was written back in 1719. I have tried to recall on what occasions he would quote those particular lines. Another of his frequent quotes was, "Follow not a fool according to his folly, or you will likewise become a fool." He sort of paraphrased Proverbs 26:4 kjv, "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him." As you read further you will see other instances where the words fool, fools, and foolish are included or implied in his quotes, monologues, and dialogues. They are also used when he is talking about certain people or applying wisdom and wit to the circumstances he faced in life.

I can remember a whole bunch of other lines he would lift out of poems he recited. One of them is:

"So live, that when thy summons comes to join

That enumerable caravan that moves

To that mysterious realm."

That is the beginning of the last verse of the poem, "Thanatopsis," by William Cullen Bryant. The full phrase, which includes that line, is also used at funerals by the Fraternal Order of Masons. Bryant first wrote "Thanatopsis" when he was about seventeen years old and enlarged it seven years later in 1821.

Daddy was a member of a Masonic lodge at one time. He may have remembered the line from "Thanatopsis" having attended funerals of his lodge brothers. Memorizing all or part of the poem may have been required by the masons. He had lots of Masonic paraphernalia at home. One day while he was at a Masonic lodge meeting one of their members came to the lodge and sadly told the brothers about a fire in his apartment. He and his family lost everything. The response was to pass the hat and collect a few dollars. Daddy thought they should have done a lot more for the brother and treated him better than that. But, that was all they did for the unfortunate soul and Daddy quit the lodge in protest. He kept his Masonic paraphernalia though. And he wore his Masonic ring very often. Later in life my son, Raymond, became a mason. I never did. Mother gave Raymond, Daddy's Masonic stuff. My father-in-law, the late Prentis Robinson, had also been a mason. Raymond now has Masonic paraphernalia from both of his grandfathers. There's the ring with the Masonic symbol, a Masonic Bible, and several other items.

Another of Daddy's favorites was quoting Robert Browning's "Rabbi Ben Ezra." He was very fond of the words,

"Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, The last of life, for which the first was made." I don't recall him finishing it as the first verse continues with, "... Our times are in His hand Who saith, 'A whole I planned, Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!"'

There are more quotes which I will sprinkle throughout this book.

"Sly mongoose,__ your name gone abroad."

Although Louisiana is where the family first came when they left Honduras, they eventually moved to New York City and Daddy pretty much grew up in Harlem. The family called him Robby. He was Uncle Robby to his nieces and nephews. He also acquired the nickname, Slick from Sugar Hill or just plain Slick. I never learned how he got that nickname. It may have been because he was what you would call a sharp dresser. Daddy took pride in his clothes. "Sharp as a tack," he would exclaim as he looked at himself in a full length mirror. He had silk shirts, elegant ties, diamond stick pins and several dress hats. On special occasions his favorite hat to wear was his white Silk Beaver. When my parents were invited to weddings, Daddy wore his own tuxedo. That really impressed me. He wore only Florsheim shoes and they were always polished and shined before he would go out. Whenever he was going out and someone asked, "Where are you going?" His reply would always be, "Don't ask me where I'm going. When I get back ask me where I've been." When he came back home the question would be, "Where have you been?" Of course he would reply, "Don't ask me where I've been. When I'm going out ask me where I am going."

The nickname may have also come from the fact that Daddy straightened his hair. It was a popular thing to do back then. There was a saying in the African American community, "If your hair is short and nappy, conkaline will may it happy. If conkaline don't make it happy, Vaseline will make it snappy." Many entertainers and public figures straightened their hair ... the Temptations, and other singers. There was the late James Brown. The Reverend Al Sharpton was a big fan of James Brown and straightens his hair as a tribute to the godfather of Soul. There was also Nat King Cole and many, many others. Conkaline is a creamy, white hair straightener that is combed into the hair and rinsed out leaving kinky hair straight or conked as they say. It's what women today call a perm. After conking your hair and putting in the waves using hair grease and your fingers, you wore a stocking cap or doo-rag to hold your hairdo in place until you stepped out for the evening. Your hair would look slick instead nappy. You rarely, if ever, wore your doo-rag outside of your home. When you combine the fine clothes and wavy, conked hair, Daddy must have looked pretty slick. And so, he was Slick from Sugar Hill.

Sugar Hill is a neighborhood of Hamilton Heights which itself is a sub-neighborhood of Harlem. Sugar Hill is so named because affluent African Americans living in that neighborhood were living the so called "sweet life." Some of the more notable Sugar Hill residents were W. E. B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, Adam Clayton Powell, and Duke Ellington. Sugar Hill is bordered on the north by 155th Street, on the south by 145th Street and to the east by Edgecombe Avenue and west by Amsterdam Avenue.

Chapter Two

They Met at the Savoy Ballroom

"Savoy, the home of sweet romance. Savoy, it wins you at a glance. Savoy, gives happy feet a chance__ to dance."

Daddy met our mother, Lois Ethel Thompson, at the famous Savoy Ballroom. That's where his brother, Walter "Count" Johnson, honed his dancing skills enough to win the Harvest Moon Ball Jitterbug contest back in the 1940's. I remember bragging to my friends about it. Mother was from the tiny town of Grayburg, Texas. It is right next to Sour Lake and up the road from Beaumont. Daddy and mother had four children. I'm the oldest (married to Dora) followed by my two sisters and brother; Veronica Parthenia Monro (we call her Roni and she is married to The Reverend Tyrone E. Monro), Akosua Nkromah Abernethy (widow of the late Lawrence "Kofi" Abernethy). She was born Beverly Lois Johnson and subsequently changed her name, and my brother, Bilal K. Sunni-Ali (husband of Fulani). He also changed his name. Bilal was born William Roger Edward Johnson. Growing up he was Bill or Big Bill. His given middle names were the names of our paternal and maternal grandfathers. Everyone in the family calls be Bob or Bobby because of my middle name, Robert. I'm known as Lloyd outside of the family. My grandchildren call me Bro. That's another story for another book.

We lived at 150 West 141St Street Apt 1W, between Lenox and Seventh Avenues, New York City in the community known around the world as Harlem. Harlem gets its name from the city Haarlem in the Netherlands. Lenox Avenue is now Malcolm X Boulevard and Seventh Avenue is now Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard. It was a large 6 room apartment on the first floor. It was large enough to have two entrance doors. We rarely used the front door which opened into the parlor. The backdoor opened into the middle of the apartment. In addition to a full bathroom there was a sink with running water in the middle of the apartment. It wasn't in a separate room. It was in the hallway but you could close a door on either side of the sink area. We called it the washstand. I liked the fact that the apartment had a separate dining room, a pantry, and a dumbwaiter. Dumbwaiter? Yeah, dumbwaiter. Look it up. The building's furnace burned coal which was delivered into a room in the basement underneath our living room. We used to sit in the window and watch it being delivered sliding from the delivery truck into the coal storage room. We didn't realize that we could have been physically harmed breathing in the black coal dust It was just fascinating to watch.

Oh, the flat foot floogie with a floy, floy.

Daddy used to talk about how he slept through the Harlem Riot of 1943. I'm glad he did. I was only seven and a half months old. The riot was really something. It seems that on August first a Colored woman (we were called Colored people back then), by the name of Margie Polite, was arrested by white police officer, James Collins, for disorderly conduct. Thinking she was being manhandled, a Colored soldier, Robert Bandy, intervened and got into a scuffle with the officer. Bandy was shot in the arm during the scuffle. As Officer Collins was taking Bandy to the hospital, a crowd of about three thousand gathered. Someone yelled, "A white cop shot and killed a Black soldier." That untrue remark ignited the riot. Harlem was predominantly Black and the businesses were predominantly white owned. That in itself created tension. Police brutality was and still is a normal expectation in Black communities around America ... not just in Harlem. As you would expect when there is a riot, stores are looted. Daddy used to lament that he missed it. People he knew had looted clothing, furniture, booze and all kinds of stuff. I'm glad he missed it because he could have gotten hurt or even killed. It took 6,600 city, military and civil police officers, 8,000 state guardsmen and 1,500 civilian volunteers to finally end the riot. Six Black people were killed and five hundred to a thousand were arrested. If Daddy had been in the middle of that, who knows what would have happened? Margie Polite was sentenced to one year probation. The poet, Langston Hughes, wrote, "Ballad of Margie Polite," as a tribute to the lady whom they say started the Harlem Riot of 1943.

* * *

We had a small pool table in our first floor Harlem apartment. One day, after school, Daddy and I were shooting pool when he noticed bits of fiery pieces of paper falling past the window to the air shaft. He yelled for my mother to get a bucket of water. The airshaft was an atrium like area between two attached apartment buildings. He opened the window and looking up he saw flames coming out of the third floor apartment window. That's when he screamed for everyone to get out of the house. That was the fire that drove us out of Harlem. I was eleven years old. Two of our playmates died in that fire. They were brother and sister and lived in the apartment where the fire started. They died hugging each other. We couldn't live in the building after the fire. The Moore family who lived on the corner at 100 West 141st Street took us in. It was cramped but that's what good friends and neighbors do. That was in 1954. Our parents applied for public housing and we moved to the northeast Bronx. The name of the housing project was Eastchester Gardens ... a nice sounding name for the projects.

While we lived in the projects I finished the sixth grade and went on to junior High School. One of my amusing memories at JHS 135 was the time my homeroom teacher, Mr. Nussbaum (not his real name), sent a note home for one of my parents to come to school to discuss my behavior. I was a joker and was always laughing about something. When my father came to the school, Mr. Nussbaum told him that I was always laughing. "He laughs," the teacher said to my father. Daddy replied with, "If I had to look at your funny looking face every day, I'd laugh too." We left and we laughed all the way home. Mr. Nussbaum was funny looking.

I won't forget my junior High School graduation either. I didn't tell my parents that I would be singing a solo at the graduation. The song was, "Jamaica Farewell," and my friend and classmate, Eugene Dudley, accompanied on bongos. I wanted it to be a surprise. Was it ever? When Daddy realized it was me singing, he began yelling, "That's my son. THAT'S MY SON." My parents were in the balcony and I could hear him while I was singing. Talk about embarrassing moments. I should have told them ahead of time. They still would have been proud and those sitting near them would have been spared Daddy's interruption.

We lived in the projects for a few years until Mother and Daddy bought a house across the street Buying the house came about because Daddy was complaining to a friend that living in the projects was like living in a concentration camp. The friend said, "Well Johnson, ain't anybody holding a gun to your head forcing you to live here." With that, Daddy made up his mind to move out of the "concentration camp."

When I think about my father's wisdom and insight, I recall his referring to the projects as concentration camps. When you really think about it and take a good look, that's exactly what they are ... government operated concentration camps for certain groups of people, patrolled by armed guards, also known as, Housing Police. Some who live in public housing would agree. But, I'm sure most would not.

Once the decision to buy the house was made, that is probably when mother started working. She had been a homemaker up until then but with the goal to buy a house they needed to put money in the bank. She worked for the New York Telephone Company as a long distance operator and also as an information operator which is now called Directory Assistance. Mother worked split hours. She went in at 10:00 AM and worked until 2:00 PM. She came home and got dinner ready. The family had dinner together and mother went back to work from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM. The New York Telephone Company's offices were less than 10 minutes away by car. On nice days she would walk. Daddy picked her up at night.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Fools Never Raise Their Thoughts So High by Lloyd R. Johnson Copyright © 2011 by Lloyd R. Johnson. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

2. They Met at the Savoy Ballroom....................7
3. Projects and House Aside....................13
4. Around the Corner and Up the Street....................18
5. Down Home is Harlem....................23
6. Prize Fighter....................28
7. A Fantastic Memory....................36
8. It Finally Dawned on Me....................43
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