I trust you brought in this New Year with some fun, but also with a renewed commitment to make this world a better place in which to live. Those of you that have read my columns regularly over the past ten years know that I love to reflect on traditions of Black Americans in the past.
I was tempted to resurrect memories such as having black-eyed peas cooking when the New Year came in; including chitterlings and collard greens with hog maw on the New Year Day menu; making certain a man was the first to enter the home on New Year’s Day; paying all bills before the New Year; having money in your pocket on the first day of the year; having all clothing washed and your home cleaned; participating in Watch Night service, also known as “Freedom Eve;” and, other traditions, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that have been a part of our Black heritage.
Instead of taking this trip, I decided to revisit some of my columns of this past year. This, then, is not the typical back in the day New Year’s column. Today’s column recaps articles I enjoyed writing in 2011; columns that I trust you enjoyed reading.
Writing a column each Sunday and writing several special editions has resulted in more than 52 columns during this past year. Thus, I am not certain where to begin, as I cannot comment on all of these due to space limitations. Some were very special columns that brought thoughts of happiness; others were rather sad. Some of these columns involved subjects that some of you may have recently experienced. Then there were columns that involved things that many of our young people have heard about but never experienced; things that we find hard to believe were ever experienced by our ancestors. Take the column on the “shotgun wedding.” You may recall how I wrote about the extremely negative reaction to couples having children outside of wedlock and the focus on situations of the past in which an unmarried female was expecting a child and the parents-to-be showed no sign of uniting as a family unit. Do you remember my position of marriage being non-negotiable, even if it was a “shotgun wedding” or a forced wedding, back in the day?
Younger readers may have had difficulty relating to my column that described a time when taking a shower was limited or nonexistent. I pointed out that this should not be surprising if you consider homes of the past usually had no shower. Most homes back then had bathtubs; not just any type, but a claw-foot tub. I reminded you that during this era the bathtub and Saturday evening went hand-in-hand. Before I wrote about this, did you remember your mother insisting that you take a bath on Saturday evening? Did you explore this matter further by speaking with people in the 50-year-old and above age group for whom taking a Saturday evening bath was a must? In many instances, it was the only bath one took during the entire week. The Saturday night bath was a prelude to Sunday school and church services and became so engrained in our psyche that some friends still take their one and only bath on Saturday evening. However, while taking a shower is something that most people do today, my column pointed out that few of us took showers back in the day.
The column I devoted to the “dating game” was particularly enjoyable to write. I described the nervousness many of us experienced on the first visit to a young lady’s home; a feeling many of us from back in the day can readily recall. It was unlike today, where you can meet anywhere before “the big inspection,” inspections that have become things of the past. It was the home! The young man had to pass the interrogation test, usually administered by the father, and no other place than the home was acceptable. I referenced first dates back then, when one showed up at the young lady’s home and the entire family was sitting on the porch. They too questioned a potential date about school; the future; your parents; where you lived; all questions designed to get information to enable the questioner to determine whether or not you “fit the bill.” I indicated that these questions were asked well before the young lady came out on the porch. As indicated in my column, in a few situations, the young man was told his date was not at home or could not go out. This was especially true if the answers provided by the young man were not acceptable. As I pointed out, this type of screening of a girl’s date was just a way of life, back in the day.
How many of you recall my column on the “sugar daddies” and the “cougars”? Now, this column generated some controversy. What about the column on how people survived in the past by holding rent parties? I hope you enjoyed reading about Georgie Woods and artists such as The Drifters, The Eldorados, The Dubs, Donnie Elbert, Stevie Wonder, The Chantels and many others in my resurrection of memories of the Uptown Theatre. What was your reaction when I traveled back to the ’60s, to recall the luxury automobile that many, if not most, Black folk owned during that era? Black folk owned this automobile of choice, which set them apart from their peers or became a status symbol. Black folk treasured the Cadillac, or “the Caddy,” as it was nicknamed. As a reminder, you were not “somebody” unless you owned a Cadillac, back in the day.
Did I bring a smile to your face when I went back to our Saturday mornings of the past? Hopefully, the vivid memories of fun and laughter that many of you enjoy today are reminders that you will never forget watching those animated cartoons that found their way into our living rooms by way of television back in the day. Some of you must have remembered that you would not miss watching “Yogi Bear,” Huckleberry Hound,” “Mr. Magoo,” “Bullwinkle,” “The Pink Panther,” “Top Cat” and “Deputy Dawg.” Were you a fan of Clutch Cargo and Paddlefoot? What about Heckle and Jekyll? Did you gravitate to the action heroes such as Mighty Mouse? While these characters are undoubtedly on the favorite lists of some, I would bet that “Popeye the Sailor Man” was on everyone’s most popular cartoon lists. Popeye was an overwhelming favorite for many. You may have agreed with my assessment of the cartoon character that I loved the most and still stops me in my tracks today; Tweety Bird, also known as Tweety Pie or simply “Tweety,” is that character. This was one of my favorite columns this past year.
Hopefully, you learned something from my column “The Green Book,” a travel guide for Blacks, and “The Black Wall Street,” which focused on economic development in a town during segregation. Perhaps you learned more about me when I shared with you my Black memorabilia collection. Were you offended, or were you understanding of my column on “Amos ‘n Andy?” Did you become curious after reading my column about “play relatives,” where I discussed play brothers, play sisters and even play mothers and fathers? There were my columns on bow ties, old-fashioned snowballs, hot weather, family phrases, family clubs, the Importance of the kitchen, fixing things and borrowing things. My columns dealing with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and the loss of loved ones and close friends were very special. Hopefully, you read these columns and were touched in some way, in the same manner as I was in writing them. Finally, there was my column on words, where I pointed out that the big words, the flowery words, take a back seat to a word that was heard quite often in the past, but which seems to have been eliminated from our vocabulary today; one of the most beautiful words in the English language. I trust that you read closely and internalized this simple phrase, “Thank you,” which was used frequently back in the day.
As I pointed out earlier, space will not permit me to comment on all of my columns from 2011. I take this opportunity to thank you for reading and following my weekly column and each special edition column. I also thank you for the warm comments received from many and the ideas some have provided for my columns. I look forward to continuing to provide you with warm memories of bygone years as I again take trips to that period that I fondly refer to as back in the day.
Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA 19146.