As I searched through the book I pulled from the attorney's envelope, I found the original deed to my grandma's house. I was surprised to learn the house was owned by my great- granddaddy, Wesley Moorehead. When he died, he left the house to his son, my granddaddy, Wesley Moorehead Jr.
Wesley Morehead Jr. was a military man and from what I was told, a ladies’ man too. All the ladies loved my granddaddy. Tall, dark, with dreamy eyes, he was very muscular and always well dressed. They said he had ‘white folks’ hair’ because his straight, silky hair didn’t need any products. It shined with a natural gloss. And his teeth were whiter than a hillbilly picnic.
Granddaddy played saxophone in a local band called “Tender Lovers.” Ladies fell out trying to get my granddaddy's attention. People only came to hear the Tender Lovers to see him. The band always left a middle part in their songs for a saxophone solo. That's when granddaddy drove the women crazy. Grandma said he could make that thing talk.
The Tender Lovers band played every first Friday at Sal's Lounge. They had a popular song called "If You Love Me Take It Off." When it was time for granddaddy to play his sax solo, all the women were magnetized to him. He'd grind and hump all over the stage so much he made himself work up a sweat. Sweating made him take his shirt off and the women screamed, “Sexy Wesley!” They'd scream it all night long. The more those women yelled “Sexy Wesley,” the more he put on a show for them.
Grandma was somewhat of an urban legend. One of the more outrageous stories I heard about her was that one night, a woman took off her panties and threw them at my granddaddy while he was playing.
Grandma just happened to be sitting in the back corner on this night. She knew women loved him, but when that woman threw her panties at granddaddy, it was enough to make Grandma get up.
Grandma ran to the stage and picked up the red laced panties by the elastic. She handed them back to the woman in the crowd and whispered something in her ear. By the time Grandma made it back to her seat the woman had thrown her panties at granddaddy again. Grandma gingerly picked them up and whispered in the woman’s ear again and shoved the
panties into the woman’s hand. As Grandma turned to walk back to her seat, the woman threw her panties again, but this time Grandma caught the panties in midair like a wide receiver.
Granddaddy stopped playing. The drummer stopped beating his drums. Everybody knew whatever was about to happen would be tragic for that woman. Grandma lifted up her dress and pulled her own panties down her legs. She balled her panties up in her hand. Slowly and purposefully, she walked toward the woman. The ladies sitting at the table whispered to each other, got up and backed away leaving the woman at the four-top table by herself. All eyes in the joint were on Grandma and that woman.
The place was as quiet as a deaf dog when a dog whistle is blown. Grandma sat down at the woman's table, stared her dead in the eye and hissed between pursed lips, “What did I tell you?” stopping at each word for emphasis.
The woman laughed and took another sip of her drink before fanning her hand in the air motioning for Grandma to get out of her face. Grandma pushed her chair back and rose from the table. She grabbed a fistful of that woman’s hair and shook her head back and forth with it so hard people said they couldn’t believe it didn’t come out in Grandma’s hand. Then, Grandma did the unthinkable. She took her own panties and stuffed them in the woman's mouth.
“I told you not to throw yo’ nasty panties at my man, didn’t I?”
Still hanging on to the woman’s hair, she rammed her head to the table, took a sip of the woman’s drink and pulled her panties from the woman’s mouth.
“Now you got a little taste of who I am.”
Granddaddy begged Grandma on the microphone to chill out. "Boosie, c'mon baby. She is just a fan.”
Grandma straightened herself, turned to him up on the stage and said, “Wesley, if you can’t teach these whores to respect me then I will just have to teach the heifers myself!”
Let’s just say women never threw their panties at granddaddy ever again.
Make That Money
Granddaddy loved playing in the band, but when President Reagan was elected, granddaddy was inspired to join the Army to serve his country. Granddaddy won all kinds of military awards including the Distinguished Service Medal, the Soldier’s Medal, and the Army Commendation Medal. He died from heart problems while serving.
When he died, the house went to Grandma. Granddaddy left instructions in his will for the property to always remain in his family. He told her to follow his advice and she would be a wealthy lady. He had a whole financial plan laid out for her and she followed it to the tee.
Even though she owned the house free and clear, after my granddaddy died, there was still an outstanding balance on their car. He told her in that letter, “If anything happens to me while I’m over here, consolidate all debt early. Even if it means you have to work three jobs. Just get it out the way.”
Grandma did hair, sold chicken plates on Fridays, and worked for a cleaning service during the day to pay off the car note. Because she had no mortgage, when she finally paid off the car note, she was debt free. Financially, she was years ahead of all of the people in the neighborhood. Most of her income was profit and she made a lot of it.
The Other Side
In the ‘80s, people dealt with one war or another. There was the war on crime and the war against racism. The war on poverty carried over from the ‘60s. Women fought against inequality in the workplace. But the biggest fight of all in the Black community was the war on drugs. In my neighborhood, most folks were fighting to get a family member off of crack. I witnessed at least 10 people lose a loved one due to that war.
Granddaddy's friend, Lou, lived next door. He was married to a woman named Gertie. She and my Grandma cleaned houses together on the other side of town. Back then, you had our side of town and you had what we referred to as the 'other side' of town.
The other side was just a nicer way of saying that's where the white folks lived. All the older people used to talk about how good the other side was. On the other side, the yards had healthy green grass and most of them watered their lawns every morning. On our side some yards didn’t even have grass. The few yards with grass were patchy like Crazy Lou's hair. I feel if your hair won’t grow all the way in you should just shave it all off. Crazy Lou held on to those patches of hair like a dog with mange. His head looked like a baseball field. Every base was a patch of hair.
Lou and Gertie
My car alarm suddenly shrieked while I sat on Grandma's porch. I looked in my purse for the keys and disarmed it. A scruffy gray cat ran from beneath my car into the yard next door. The cat reminded me of the day Louis Bell became "Crazy Lou."
A few months after granddaddy died, Crazy Lou was dishonorably discharged from the military. Ms. Gertie was so excited her husband had come home, but it didn’t take her long to realize the man who returned was not the man she married.
His attitude changed. He became a bitter person. Whatever he witnessed while serving ate away at him every minute of every day. Unfortunately, he took all of his anger out on Gertie.
At the time, I didn’t know why Gertie wore so many pairs of shades. She had large, rhinestone jeweled sunglasses, round-framed ones with yellow lenses, black Rayban Wayfarers and an assortment of blue, red and green framed sunglasses. Her sunglasses were her personal logo. I just assumed she was sensitive to sunlight or that she was being fashionable. But like most women before the “Me Too” movement, you didn’t discuss what happened between you and your husband with other people. Even if he was beating the living daylights out of you, you just made it seem like it wasn’t happening.
Lou not only took his anger out on Gertie, but rumor spread he was having an affair with Loretta Parker. People whispered that Crazy Lou fathered Loretta Parker's oldest child. Of course, Gertie denied it, but Grandma refused to leave it alone. One weekend, Gertie had to fly to Oakland because her sister was sick. While Gertie visited her sister in California, Grandma saw Loretta Parker go into Gertie's house late one night.
Her Bones Didn’t Lie
Grandma didn’t want to accuse Loretta Parker of anything without hard facts, but she said she could feel it in her bones. Something wasn’t right. “Why she tip-toeing her narrow ass up in these people’s house at eleven o’clock at night?” Grandma was determined to find out.
Grandma threw on her gown and house slippers. She had a drawer in the kitchen next to the silverware that she called the safety deposit box. She kept important mail, batteries, thumbtacks, pens, thread, and pocket change all in that one drawer. It really was just a junk drawer, but that's where she stored the small candles and flashlight in case of an emergency, too.
She grabbed a little red flashlight out of the safety deposit box and slipped out the back door. I swear she thought she was Inspector Gadget, but Gertie was her friend and she felt she was looking out for her friend. She should've just left it alone, but when she felt something, she just had to scratch the itch. The feeling in her bones revealed a lot to her. She said it was her gift from God. "I can feel a lie from a mile away. I can feel it in my bones."
While tipping out of the side gate, Grandma heard a dog barking. Four houses down, Henry Givens’ dog Poopsie ran out of her yellow palace and barked and yapped from her yard as if to alert the neighborhood to what was taking place in Lou and Gertie’s house. Another dog across the street began barking. It became a dog symphony. Even the dogs knew something wasn’t right.
Grandma saw a light on near Lou and Gertie's bedroom window. Her bones started talking to her, but she still didn’t have concrete proof of any wrongdoing going on next door. She needed her eyes to catch up with her bones. As she tip-toed down the walk of their house, something catastrophic happened.
This was the atomic bomb. This was a revelation like no other. Grandma found a stick lying on the ground beside a dusty blue plastic milk crate. “I know that ain’t what I think it is I hear!” she thought. She pushed the crate close to the window and stood on it to get a better view of what was happening inside that bedroom. She used the stick to steady herself. Then she heard the sound again. With the flashlight in one hand and the stick in the other, she jumped up and down on top of the milk crate whispering to herself, “I knew it! I knew it!”
Between the Sheets
Grandma knew when she heard that sound the last time, her bones were right all along. There was a record player in the bedroom and it had gotten to the end of a record. Crackle, crackle, crackle. It was the repetitive sound a record player made as the dead space on the record groove rotated beneath the needle. Obviously, the couple was too occupied to flip the record over or make it replay so they let it continue crackling. Even though people began to play cassette tapes more in the early ‘80's, the record player was still the most common way to play music at home. People would put a penny on the needle arm so the extra weight kept their records from skipping in the middle of the song, but this was the sound of abandonment.
Out of nowhere the record began to play. When Grandma heard the first slow beats of the song and opening line “Hey girl ain’t no mystery…” of the Isley Brothers’ “Between the Sheets,” it was as if she heard a thunderclap and Heaven gave her permission to take her investigation to another level. She knew the devil was busy. She always said Marvin Gaye and Ronald Isley were responsible for half the kids in our neighborhood and "Between the Sheets" was the national anthem for every sexual demon. It was their cue to come out.
Before Ronald Isley could even finish the first verse, Grandma stretched her legs and toes up another two inches to get a better peek in the window. When her eyes verified what her bones already knew, it was like hearing the soundtrack to a horror movie in her head. The killer was out and neither Lou nor Loretta saw what was coming.
“That ol’ wench!" Grandma saw Lou lying on the bed with Loretta on top of him. They were doing the nasty. Lou was sweaty and musty looking. He wore a white muscle tee, a sleeveless undershirt known to my generation as a wife beater. The thin undershirt never stopped men from sweating and didn’t cover up the odor either. Grandma was hopping mad about Lou cheating on her friend, Gertie, off visiting her sick sister. She felt she had to go in there for Gertie’s sake.
Her hand slipped off the window ledge. Her stick flew up as the crate tipped over. The stick hit the window and Grandma crashed down on the milk crate so hard her foot got stuck inside.
Lou shouted, “Who is that outside my God damned window?” He threw Loretta off of him and hurried to the window to look. It was so dark he couldn’t see anything. Lou got his gun and stormed out of the front door. He turned the corner to the side of the house with his gun in his hand. He shot in the air and yelled, “God damn thieves! Why you dumbasses always try to steal from your own people?”
Grandma had hobbled over and hid under a tree in the next- door neighbor’s yard. Lou turned away to head back into the house when Loretta came dashing out of the front door. “I can’t do this with you no more, Lou. It just don’t feel right.” Lou, standing in the yard in his wife-beater with his sweaty tighty-whitey underwear barely keeping his wobbly butt cheeks in place, tried to stop her.
“Loretta, you ain’t got to leave just yet. It was just a crackhead. Ain't nothing to worry about. Come on back in before somebody sees you!” Loretta covered herself and strode back around the corner to her house. In a matter of seconds, she had disappeared in the darkness of the night. “Dammit!” Lou threw his hands up and walked in the house.
Grandma made her way back to her own yard, but she still had her foot stuck in the milk crate. She walked on one foot and slid the other one until she made it safely back inside her own house.
Eventually, Lou turned the light off in his bedroom and the night just kind of faded away. Grandma knew all she needed to know. Even though she wanted to confront Lou about his infidelity, she felt it was best to wait until Gertie came back from California. She held her peace for two more days, but it was very hard to stay silent. It just wasn’t her style. She would normally walk right up and tell a person how she felt with no regard to their feelings. This time she restrained her mouth.