This is a picture of my grandfather and great grandmother. His name was Jack, and I remember him as a sharp, cunning old business man and Lord Commander of his five sons.
His story went like this. About 10 years after that photo was taken on an Orangeburg South Carolina farm, he hitched a ride to Philadelphia. This was in the 20’s. He was going it alone, escaping from behind enemy lines ruled by Jim Crow and the KKK. His story could have easily ended with a rope and a tree along Rt One. It didn’t.
He came to Philadelphia. Became a longshoreman. Married Anna Mae Combs. Got into a knife fight on the docks. Didn’t go back. Then he bought a junk truck from a Jewish man that he worked for. (I don’t know why it is important that he was Jewish, but whenever anyone tells the story, that’s how they tell it.)
Then he collected junk. Then he bought a bigger truck and he and his sons began hauling gravel. Money was made. A lot of money. His sons branched off on their own. Sometimes they returned to his business, sometimes they didn’t.
By the time I came along, he spent most of his time ruling his empire from a perch upon the bed of a Toyota 4×4; the kind Marty McFly drove in Back to the Future.
He had created a life for himself about 800 miles away from that farm. One that had almost nothing in common with his upbringing, accept for about 1/4 acre of land that his wife had, just outside of their kitchen window. They didn’t leave the farm. They bought it with them in their hip pockets. And there it was, growing up amongst nine guard dogs and about seven trucks.
Still, I didn’t get it. To me, women gardened. Men worked. I saw her out there, tending tomatoes and okra. I ate the vegetables, and even then, before the proliferation of GMO pseudo veggies, her crops were sweeter and juicier than anything that could be bought at ACME supermarket. But beyond her gardens, the men struggled beneath the hulking trucks. They risked their lives with equipment that was measured in tons, not pounds. The got dirty and cursed, always walking the line between arguing and coming to blows. And as soon as I was old enough my father brought me out there with him. Every Saturday. Men’s work.
Funny how we come full circle. My grandparents knew how to grow things. Tomatoes. Businesses. Somehow I came to believe that they were distinctly different. They weren’t. They were two sides of the same coin. They were both essential to how they viewed survival.
This guy gets it. His name is Ron Finley and he lives in South Central. I don’t know how his folk got there, but I suspect, somewhere along the line, there was a Jack in his family, who risked his life for something better, away from the dark ages that cloaked the South.
Ron saw the affects that lousy food were having on his community; a food desert, where fast food and alcohol are far more accessible than healthy, unaltered, vegetables and fruits. Everybody knows that South Central is dangerous place. People assume it’s because of violence. But the affects of poor nutrition were far more lethal than the drive-by’s.
My Grandfather would have liked Ron. He planted food along medians and in vacant lots and in a lot of other places. Places that, generally, exist far below the give a damn, radar. And folks suddenly began giving a damn. They wanted him to stop. They would rather see weeds than plants.
Do you think they stopped him? Really?!
When I talk about gardening, it doesn’t come from a vacuum. Black folk have had a long relationship with the land, and I’m not just talking about slavery. There were a whole lot of people like Anna Mae and Jack Glover, who worked the land out of choice, and with absolutely no shame. They were showing us the way. It’s time for us to take the hint. Our lives depend on it.