Brick by Brick
The journey in pursuing any business venture is a quiet one. I think about my granddaddy J.D. who, in the forties and fifties until his death in the late 60’s helped shape my view on the process. Granddaddy, a man with little to no education through grit and a hard edge on not borrowing “a damn thing–ever.” I remember once my grandmother had bought an item from Sears. She’d gotten it on credit. Granddaddy had her to call the finance department to come by the house and return the item…the lady on the phone kept saying, “that’s not our policy.” But, he wasn’t hearing any of that….the next thing I recall was the truck coming by the house to pick up the item. Debt didn’t make sense to him. It’s like what Sweetie Pie says on her show…”if it don’t make money it don’t make sense!” My grandfather saved up the bricks to lay for the apartment buildings…load by load…brick by brick…until he had enough to build..step by step…first the foundation…then the frame… until the entire thing was done….but, always–cash and carry only.
Get Anything you Want but Pay Cash
He always liked the best and bought the best—he wasn’t cheap. One day a huge piano and an organ was delivered to the house. Grandma: “J.D. what we need with these? I don’t know how to play them and you don’t either!” The only person who played the piano was my mother, who was married and living in Tennessee. But, granddaddy wanted it and so, we had one…paid for with cash. I looked at the booklets included in the sale….”learn how to play…” and I’d play “Home On the Range…” and other little ditties…”learn how to play” was like paint by the numbers! My prowess as a piano player never got too much beyond “Home on the Range.” What did I learn from that which now applies to me as an adult? Well, a lot. You can have anything you want if you work hard for it but, not on credit…oh, and you’ll have plenty of people who will doubt your abilities, envy and criticize you….even one of your own.
To the Crabs in the Pot
Granddaddy always said, “Negroes are like crabs in a pot.”..”ever watched crabs in a pot, Cheryl?” he once asked me. I looked down at the tin tub full of crabs. Each one crawling up on the backs of the other-fighting for survival into a tangled mess going nowhere. Each time one got loose…another one would stretch out his claws and pull the “escapee” back down in the pot….until they all met their lot of boiling hot water filled with spicy crab boil and cayenne pepper. The point? It was one of their own who kept them from making it out of the the tin tub before their fated end. And that was the biggest lesson. When you’re trying to achieve some goal which is outside of the main stream it may be one of your own who will prevent you from your goals –(another effect of the “slave mentality”) I learned about later in college. It was the slave master who used to pit the slaves to serve his ends–he’d especially pit them against each other…which some blacks would do out of the need to survive. Anything just for an extra piece of “fat back” in their pot of beans… or to get a rug on their dirt floor. The “Uncle Tom” which has its origin in slavery is unique to the African American culture.
There was once some Asians who lived around the corner from us…I mean there must have been 10 people living in that small 3 bedroom house…all pooling their assets and living together until each obtained their goals to own something…Now, I may be criticized for this but, it’s true…(and all black folks who are honest with you know it)….and yes, I’m generalizing but, we don’t support each other…it doesn’t come natural to us because of slavery we were raised on division to prevent upheaval on the plantation and to maintain oppression….Instead, we criticize and talk about each other….analogous to those crabs in the pot….waiting on our fated end….together… with a resounding, overwhelming sigh of, “chile, I told you all that wasn’t gonna amount to nothing.”
I generalize, but, we (black folks) carry some serious vestiges from slavery….need a doctor? “Get a white man”…need a mechanic? A dentist? A lawyer? A bank? A cake? better go find the white man. The bottom line? We don’t support our own. It’s sad–but, true. Outside of a few family (only a few) and an even smaller amount of friends….my support has come from outside my own race. And as I begin this venture in the wine business combined with my baking….I think the same thing. But, then, I think about granddaddy still putting aside the pile of bricks…or the marble tile…every day….he and grandma worked their butts off to have anything they wanted despite the critics. He focused on his vision and his dreams and the hell with what someone else on the sidelines thought. He planned until the day he couldn’t speak anymore. He was planning on his death bed…telling Grandma how to maintain what he’d worked all his life for….He was a visionary. His visions and words are lessons for me today.
On the wall he had envelopes which were labeled, ” utilities, food, etc.,” He’d put the money into those envelopes…setting it aside on a weekly basis. ..so, saving up but, securing the necessities were important too. He relied on no one but himself. Eventually, he’d have enough to get apartments built, a pool hall and he was one of the first blacks in segregated Daytona Beach to have a business built on “the beach side” in New Smyrna Beach because that was the only place (during Jim Crow) where blacks could go if they wanted to go to the beach. “And you want to know what happened to that dream?” Grandma said, the night he finished the entire business he sighed, and said, “now that it’s finished…tomorrow I’ll can go secure the insurance.” But, later that night he was burned out. He always believed it was by a black competitor…the entire thing burned to the ground….yeah, those crabs in the pot…
One Thing leads to Another
When I was first beginning my home baking business one day while buying something in “Michael’s” a man asked me about some clay I was looking to buy. He and I got into a discussion. He said to me, “and you’re doing this business without any money?” I took it to mean, “no bank loan?” He just looked at me with astonishment. But, to me, it was like, “anything is possible.” I already know that banks generally, don’t invest in black businesses–merely, because of race. But, I already know about what’s possible notwithstanding any possible rejections from the banks because I’d had the opportunity to know this living, breathing dream maker…this legendary business guru who taught me how to make it happen without all that. My grandfather was a black man who could add columns of numbers in his head with barely a middle school education…he came from the orange and migrant worker area around Waverly, Florida…whose grandmother was 100 percent Native American and whose grandfather was an African slave. His mother was a cook and a baker for white folks… He came from a people who heard “I can’t” on a daily basis…. but, he lived to be “well-off” so much so that one Jewish lawyer in town…when he needed extra cash…borrowed large sums of money from my grandfather–a black man. Yes, that’s the stock I hail from….anyway, that man in Michael”s said to me….”how you’re doing this without any money except your paycheck as a teacher….that’s a story…that’s a book…that’s a motivational speech….do you know how many people would read that story or listen to that lecture? Lots,” he said. And as I walked to the checkout counter, I said to myself, “maybe so, maybe so.”
The One Who Got Away…
So, to the crabs in the pot here’s one more thing I have to say…..Every now and then…. despite all the “nay-sayers,” the pulling and clawing, the “what do you think you’re doing?” and the “you’re not leaving us!” Inevitably, one of them always got away…..brick by brick… that one crab, who said, quietly to herself, “no matter what you say or think…I’m getting out of this damn pot!”…that one crab…is me.
The first wine I ever made was Peach Wine–it’s still my favorite! Delish!