My cousin was buried today. Celeste. She was a little older than I am, and she had cancer.
Celeste — along with her siblings, Rose, Bonnie, Linda, Sabrina, Valencia, Mark and Yvette — was more like one of my sisters growing up than a cousin. Big families were the way to go back in the day. Celeste’s father, Albert, the older brother of my father, always looked out for his younger brother Rudolph. So much so that my entire childhood was spent somewhere close to Uncle Albert and his brood. In East Chicago, they lived upstairs from us. When they moved to Gary, we moved into a house on the next block a little while later.
Celeste’s mother, Aunt Gertrude, died relatively young, leaving Uncle Albert to raise their children. And that he did. A single father back in the day. A BLACK single father, at that. Seven daughters and a son.
I remember Celeste — we called her “Jockey” — getting caught “out there” after Uncle Albert’s “curfew” and coming over to our house for refuge and to await the inevitable wrath of my uncle. You see, Uncle Albert — for a period of time — locked the kids inside his house while he worked the midnight shift at Inland Steel. He’d installed locks in the doors that worked from the outside. And whoever wasn’t in by the time he left for work … well, you get the idea. My parents implored him to quit doing that, the fire hazard that it was, but Uncle Albert was adamant. And more than once, Celeste came over to our place to wait it out.
Over the years, as often is the case, I grew further apart from my cousin. We’d see each other at family gatherings and whatnot, where we’d “catch up” and reminisce about our time back in Gary. We’d laugh about whose dad was the meanest, who got the most “whuppings.”
I remember her smile, her laughter and her quick wit. Jockey was a "pistol" and despite the fact that I wasn't always the sharpest knife in the drawer when we where growing up, Jockey always took up for me. And the other kids would back off. Nobody messed with those Reddings on Willard Street. When I got the news of Jockey's death, I was just about to dig into an omelette at Studio Cafe in Studio City. My party and I had moved inside from the patio, as it had begun to drizzle. Who said it never rains in Southern California?
Uncle Albert is gone. And Mark. Now Celeste. But they will live forever. In my heart, and in the hearts of those whose lives they touched before they left here.
So rest easy, cousin.
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