- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Back to the Future
How many folks do you know
Who can boast about their dad?
And say that he's the best there is
The best they could have had?
How many folks can tell you
That their dad is really hip?
Our kind of conversation
Might cause some folks to trip.
Well here is one who'll talk of you
Until this life is through
And when I get to someplace else
I'll still be talking about you.
-- DONDA WEST, "A Man Called Portwood"
The last time my daddy saw his own father, he was nine years old. He and his two sisters walked their father to the train station in Oklahoma City, where he boarded a train to a destination they would never know. My dad didn't remember any of the conversation. But he did remember his father reaching into his pocket and giving his older sister a dime, his younger sister a dime, and him -- the only boy -- a quarter. His father then turned and walked onto that train and never came back.
My father talks about how he and his sisters were very happy about the money, but inside they were sad to see their dad leave. My father's mother had not gone to the train station. When she learned about the little excursion, her eyes filled with tears. Maybe she knew that day would be the last time any of them would see him. All he left them with was a total of forty-five cents. Forty-five cents for the kids and tears for his wife.
But still, my dad loved his father dearly. Later, my father asked his mother if she'd loved him, too.
"I worshipped the ground he walked on," Grandmother Williams told him.
There were two lessons my father took away that day that he in turn passed along to his children. The first was that no matter what, you never abandon your family. The second was that no matter what, you must love unconditionally. That his mother still loved his father -- in fact, worshipped the ground he walked on -- even after he walked out on the family showed a kind of love that you just don't find every day. They say you must hate the sin but love the sinner. You can hate what someone does and still love the person.
It is that kind of love that made my father the kind of father, and the kind of man, he is. My daddy vowed that he would never leave -- he would never walk away from his family. And he never did. It's been seventy-two years of marriage...and counting -- four kids, grandkids, great- grandkids, great-great-grandkids later -- and he's still here. He and my mother laid the foundation for the rest of us to build upon and grow on.
You took me with you everyplace
From church to corner joints
I learned when I was 5 or less
About life's finer points.
And when I wouldn't talk up
The way you knew I should
You gave me words of warning
And then I knew I could.
"I won't take you with me, Big Girl,
If you don't speak out loud."
And ever since I've talked right out
To a few or in a crowd.
When anything was needed
You told me what to do
"You have not, 'cause you ask not."
Those words stuck with me too.
I remember everything my father ever told me. He never understood what would make a man leave his family. I know times were tough when my daddy was a child, so tough that he picked cotton. When he got older he worked for years on jobs where he was called "nigger" on a daily basis. And when he wasn't being called "nigger," the word of choice was "boy." Long before he rose to the honor of being one of Oklahoma City's Outstanding Black Businessmen, my dad shined shoes and grinned for tips.
"Yes, sir," he'd say to the white men, who on occasion would even spit on him. Then he'd put that dime in his pocket and bring it home to my mom. My dad knew how to take the insults and keep his dignity. It must have eaten him alive inside but no one would ever know. Sometimes he had to flee for his very life. That's the way it was in those days. And if you wanted to provide the best you could for your family, you took it because you had to.
In Capitol Hill, a southern section of Oklahoma City where my dad worked as a laborer, there was a sign that read: NO NIGGERS AND DOGS AFTER SUNDOWN. My dad had to pass that sign every day going to and coming from his meager job. But he did whatever it took to keep a roof over our heads and, with my mother's help, give us what we needed and wanted.
Some would say it was blasphemous the way Grandmother Williams worshipped her husband, the way my dad worshipped me, and the way I worship Kanye. But I just call it plain-old heartfelt, couldn't-help-it-if-you-tried-to love. In my family there is a legacy of that kind of love. And there was no shortage of that in our household. It has persisted through generations. And I am certain that Kanye will feel the same way about his children.
My dad was just nine years old when his father left home. But instead of doing the same, Daddy became the kind of father his dad was not. I heard him say on more than one occasion, "I wanted to play football, but I wasn't big enough. I wanted to box, but I wasn't fast enough. I wanted to sing, but I wasn't talented enough. I wanted to be the best dad there ever was, and I am."
And he is -- unequivocally.
According to Kanye, my dad is where he gets his confidence. My dad is in his nineties and he's still setting the standard in our family of what a real man, a daddy, not just a biological father, should be. I write about this because I look forward to Kanye becoming a father. He is blessed to have Buddy as a model.
A million days have come and come
Since I was first in school
But never did the teachers teach
What I have learned from you.
I got those books for you had said
That they could bring me glory
But more than that you taught me that
I'd have to have a story.
A story for the people
You'd say and show concern
That's been the greatest lesson
That I have ever learned.
You taught me how to hustle
And when to dummy up
Whatever the occasion
You had the proper touch.
The time that tops them all off, though
Was not so long ago
When we rapped and rode for hours
Down the streets there in Chicago.
That night the conversation
Seemed to linger in the air
And we both know without a doubt
We were a special pair.
So, I couldn't be more lucky
Than to have a dad like you
'Cause you're a priceless present
That I've had my whole life through.
You're a man that some call Portwood
And they say it with a smile
But I'm more blessed by far than they
'Cause I was born your child.
Love, Big Girl
Behind every great man...you know the rest. With all that my father is, he is magnified by my mother. Unconditional love? Mother personified this. Not a single day passed in my childhood when anything came before her children. Not even her own needs. She was always wherever we needed her to be despite working full time. She didn't miss one PTA meeting, not one talent show or beauty pageant, not a church program or graduation.
Mother didn't even miss a single graduation of her ten grandchildren. Sometimes she'd travel as far as El Paso, Texas, or Chicago, Illinois, to be there. She and my dad would be on a plane to that graduation. Mine was the mother who took off work to go on field trips and the mother who made all the other kids glad she had come. As the youngest of the four children, I confess that I was in an enviable position. I got the fewest spankings and the best perks. We spent a lot of time together, mother and I. When she wasn't working at the Tinker Air Force Base or when I wasn't with my dad on a call to one of his customers (those demeaning jobs had now been replaced with my dad's own furniture upholstery and refinishing business), I hung out with Mother.
Every Monday night she would take me shopping downtown. Both of my sisters were grown and out of the house by then and my brother, Porty, would be in the shop mostly with my dad. Mother and I would hit John A. Brown's first and then Rothschild's. It was our routine. I didn't mind that we'd always go to the bargain basement first (and sometimes last). I loved it. I loved the time we spent together even more than the bargains she'd manage to always find for me. Mother is probably the one who came up with the concept "buy one, get one free." You could say that she could stretch a penny. A penny went far, but not nearly as far as her love.
Mother had not always worked as a keypunch operator at Tinker Air Force Base. I heard tell of stories where she'd done hair and been a domestic. My dad wanted her to stop doing hair, though, because she was on her feet too long. The domestic job? That bit the dust the day my mother went to work and rang the doorbell, as she had done so many mornings before to start her work, only to be met by the lady of the house, who I'll call Miss Ann. Miss Ann had come into some money and had a maid's outfit, complete with a little hat, ready for my mother.
"Use the back door from now on," she told my mother.
Well, you'd have to know my mother to know what this triggered inside of her. After giving the woman a few choice words, she left that house never to return. She was never to do domestic work again, either. She was not forced to take the same level of mistreatment my dad had to take. In fact, he would not stand for her being mistreated on a job. I don't remember hearing what my mother's next job was. But neither she nor my dad were okay with her being told to put on a little maid's hat and only use the back door. While my mother's mom was herself a domestic, Grandmother Eckles had never been treated like that. She worked for the Robinsons for forty-eight years and never suffered an unkind word from that family. In later years, they even sent for my grandmother by cab daily just to be a companion to Mrs. Robinson. They had hired another maid and cook by then and Grandmother's job was to keep Mrs. Robinson company. The Robinsons even paid off Grandmother Eckles's mortgage. I learned later that it was only a few thousand dollars, but paying the balance of the mortgage, no matter how small an amount, was a far cry from being told to put on a maid's hat and come in through the back door.
My mother couldn't and didn't take insults very well. When we went on our shopping sprees at John A. Brown, mother insisted that we use the "White Women" restroom and that we drink from the "Whites Only" water fountain. She must have had a presence that said to people, "Don't mess with me!" because rarely did anyone say anything to us. They just looked as if we ought to know better. What Mother knew is that my dad, as he'd often say, had picked enough cotton for us all. He'd picked cotton until his fingers bled. And he did it so that ultimately, his wife and his children would not have to, literally or figuratively.
Mother was always assertive, I'm told, even before she met my dad. Whether Kanye realizes it or not, he gets a lot of his fighting spirit and confidence from my mother, too.
Much of Kanye's confidence can also be traced from the West side. Mom-Mom was his paternal grandmother, Fannie B. Hooks West. Born in Arkansas, she met her husband, James Frederick West, in Tucson, Arizona, where Kanye's dad was born. After several months of courting, Mom-Mom demanded that James put up or shut up. She was not going to be the girlfriend, she was going to be the wife. After a relatively short courtship, Fannie and James married. James was a military man and remained so for twenty-three years. He, like my dad, was a protector and a provider. Unlike my dad, however, he lived in many places. The family traveled from Tucson, Arizona, to Salina, Kansas, to Delmar, Delaware, to Roswell, New Mexico, to Seville, Spain, to Altus, Oklahoma, back to Roswell, then to Marysville/Yuba City, California, and finally back to Delmar, where James, who Kanye called Pop-Pop, was born. Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop would raise six children -- James Jr., Ray, Juanette, Wanda, Sheila, and Wayne. Ray is Kanye's dad.
James and Fannie West were very spiritual people. Like my family, they attended church every Sunday that the good Lord sent unless they were traveling on the road, moving to yet another city where Pop-Pop had been stationed. Ray tells the story of how they were frequently faced with not being able to stop and rest for the night at motels, not because of money but because of the color of their skin. Pop-Pop was a sergeant in the United States Army, but this did not afford him the right to lodge at the white, racist motels along the way. Not even the restaurants or stores would open their doors to a black family, military or not. Sometimes to keep the family safe, Pop-Pop would drive the car a little distance from the store and walk back to see if he could purchase some bologna and bread and something to drink for his wife and children.
Pop-Pop was a quiet and reserved man who loved his family and his God. Mom-Mom was equally as God-fearing. I never met two finer people than James and Fannie West. They had been married for sixty years. On December 28, 2006, James departed this earth. He had a long illness and it was expected. What wasn't expected was that the very next day, quite suddenly, Fannie joined him. I suppose upon seeing her husband pass, Mom-Mom decided she'd rather leave, too. She'd not been ill and was her same jovial, loving self when I spoke with her the day after Christmas.
"Donda, James is not doing well," she said. "You can see him slipping away." Little did I know that she'd go right behind him. I wonder if she knew. Something in me says she may have. She had lived with this man for sixty years. Had been with him every day, taking care of the home and the kids, except for the rare occasion when she would work outside of the house. Her work was taking care of her six children, all grown now, and her husband. When Pop-Pop left, perhaps she felt her work was done.
That kind of love races through the West family and right through Kanye. Like his parents and grandparents, he is determined, steadfast, persistent, and caring.
This life is about lessons and learning them and sharing them. Kanye had some pretty incredible teachers. He absorbed enough knowledge to be able to take what I thought would be a real negative -- dropping out of college -- and make it work for him. But again, he had models. Neither my mother nor father was educated beyond the twelfth grade (my dad only went through the sixth -- he had to drop out to help his mother provide for their family).
Kanye learned that learning, true education, is in living every day to the fullest. Most of our life lessons cannot be taught in a classroom. Those lessons come from watching and learning from the best -- our families. Those lessons don't have to be preached; sometimes they just flow through the blood, in the DNA.
I learned my most important lessons not from school -- kindergarten through a doctoral program -- but from my dad and my mom, who learned from their mom and dad, who learned from theirs. We are the sum total of the lives our families lived and the lessons they instilled in us -- both good and bad.
So before there could be a Kanye, there had to first be his teachers -- Chick and Buddy, Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop, mom and dad.
Copyright © 2007 by Donda West
CHAPTER ONE...Back to the Future
CHAPTER TWO...Ray West
CHAPTER THREE...And Baby Makes...
CHAPTER FOUR...Love Don't Come Easy
CHAPTER FIVE..."Hey Mama!"
CHAPTER SIX...I'll Fly Away: From Chi-town to Shanghai
CHAPTER SEVEN...L No!
CHAPTER EIGHT...College Dropout
CHAPTER NINE...Rap or Bust!
CHAPTER TEN...Through the Wire:The Accident
CHAPTER ELEVEN...Jesus Walks
CHAPTER TWELVE...The Roses
CHAPTER THIRTEEN...Arrogance or Confidence?
CHAPTER FOURTEEN...Pink Polos and Backpacks
CHAPTER FIFTEEN...Gay Bashing: "Yo, Stop It!"
CHAPTER SIXTEEN...Nigga vs. Nigger
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN...Heard 'Em Say: "George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People"
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN...Touch the Sky
CHAPTER NINETEEN...Giving Back:Loop Dreams
Posted May 10, 2012
Posted July 14, 2013
Posted February 17, 2013
This book is a really good book because the mom is telling about his life style and how he his born until she dies. Wow has inspired me to alway do sonething to help my mom outWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 13, 2011
No text was provided for this review.