I know that tree. My cousin’s dad used to play dominos and cards under that tree with all the other older men in the neighborhood. He’d sit there, in that white fold away table, one leg crossed over the other in the same shirt he wore every Saturday since 1985 – I know because I have a photograph of him in that shirt at my first birthday party.
That park? There? That one? Yeah, I scraped my knee chasing another cousin while we were playing tag, It was after some party or game or another and our families were piling into our respective cars and neither of us wanted to go home being “it”. After I scraped my knee he came over, helped me up, said I could tag him and when i lifted my hand to do so he jooked me and jumped into his mama’s van yelling “SIKE” as they pulled off. It’s also where that dude in the Chevy, the box, with cornrows and a grill on his bottom teeth spotted me my first summer home from college. Told me he’d missed me and was glad to see me. Then his girlfriend’s sister pulled up in her Toyota, looked me in the face and said I see you Ed, then pulled off. Laughing it off we sat on the hood for another hour or so – even as the sister came home and eased us, because my best friend and his best friend were also making up for lost time.
That store, Sto’, where I first learned to count change and had my first, and last, pickled egg and where one of my favorite friends from school still works, was also where we used to meet my sister so she would come over to our house for the weekend. Her mom and our dad pretending they were old friends rather than two people who had parented a child together.
On the corner there? That was my Uncle David’s house, back when he was with his second baby mama. And he was with her for a while. I used to go there every afternoon he and my father wanted to go have a drink, or a smoke, somewhere. I’d play in the backyard and wait for Michelle to come out of her backyard and since neither house had a fence – it was a community after all – we had a whole lot of playing space.
We never actually lived in Perrine, no, my folks and I lived in a cheap duplex on the good side of the high way. That I was at nearly every Saturday jam or MLK day festivities means nothing. That my grandfather, the only one I’d ever know, was the guy everyone went to for motor issues and sugar canes, lived there and his was one of the many houses I knew like the back of my had means even less. These and the fact that my school was ridiculously disproportioned and my high yellow, almond eyed ass was about the only black in my advanced classes and so I never really saw these kids at school make me foreign around these parts. This neighborhood is tied to so many firsts, and lasts in my life, it raised my father, and holds a special place in my mind. But still, when I come here – formal English and features that hide my African blood almost completely- I am a stranger.