Tamara Jorell

Writing life and the neighborhood

Writing life and the neighborhood

 

Plums and lasagna

Last year, I wrote about Kay G Wilson’s life: Bullies: Part 1, Bullies: Part 2, and Bullies: Part 3. Here’s the story that came before…

 

“What should I do for the blog this week?” I plopped onto the bed on August 25, 2015, eyeing Husband as he packed for a work trip. “I want to write about someone in the neighborhood, someone living a life of service.”

He folded a shirt and layered it into his suitcase. “What about Kay G Wilson?”

I thought of the man whose face often peppered the local newspapers. A friend of the police and the black community. A force of good in the midst of violence and tragedy. A peace activist with a bullhorn.

“You’re brilliant.” I headed for my computer, but my optimism was already losing steam. Kay G Wilson was a busy man; it would be a miracle if I could pin him down for an interview.

Through Facebook, I found him. I sent him an introduction and a request to meet. If he could tell me about his work, I said, I’d be grateful. But I understood the life of a peace activist was a busy one. Especially these days, in this neighborhood.

Kay G responded within minutes. An hour later, we met on the northside’s Broadway Pizza, snapping up a corner booth big enough to hold all his stories. Hopefully the server would let us travel some winding roads while keeping our cups filled with hot coffee.

“I’ll tell you the details,” Kay G said, “so your reader can feel the same things, see the same things.”

As he had suggested, I positioned some tissues on the table, just in case. And then he started from the beginning.

The man’s narrative whisked me back to late 1960s Chicago. I followed him through the decades—from foster care into gang life, drugs into homelessness, and darkness into light. He illustrated his stories with laminated newspaper clippings of his work and borrowed a tissue from my pile as he spoke.

Then his eyes lit on a police officer entering the restaurant. “Well, look who’s here.” Beaming, he signaled to the man. “It’s my best friend. I want you to meet him.”

Kay G slid out of the booth and stood as the officer approached our table. They shook hands and then clapped each other on the back. I had seen Detective Friestleben with Kay G in the news at peace events and awards ceremonies. The men chatted for a few minutes, then the officer left us to return to Kay G’s stories of navigating life through bullies and bullets, darkness and danger, with only the Light to guide him.

“‘A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand. But it will not come near you’.” He took a sip of coffee. “That’s my theme verse.”

“It’s a favorite of mine too.” I jotted the reference on my notepad and then sat back for a moment. “Thank you for letting me write your story. Me, a white woman and all that.”

He tilted his head, then looked me straight in the eye. “C’mon, sister. You and me? We share the same color blood.”

The view of Kay G sitting across the table from me blurred. I plucked a tissue from the stack, so I could see again.

His cell phone rang. He picked up and soon a frown clouded his face.

“Okay, I’ll be right there.” He ended the call and looked at me. “Do you want to see what I do every day?”

“Of course.”

“Follow me.” He chugged the rest of his coffee and motioned to our server. “We’re going to my friend Londa’s place.”

We settled our bill, and on our way out of the restaurant, Kay G relayed the details of the phone call to Officer Friestleben who sat in a nearby booth eating his lunch. The man scribbled down the address and said he’d meet up with us soon.

I climbed into my Honda and followed Kay G’s SUV into a north Minneapolis neighborhood not far from my own. We parked in front of a tidy house on a corner. Londa stood on the grass, staring at her home. The sun warmed the day, but she rubbed her arms as if staving off a chill.

“This time, they threw a brick through the window,” she said. She drew a deep breath and pointed at the splintered glass. Then she looked at me. “It wasn’t even a year ago that they shot up the house. Seventeen bullets.”

In August of 2014, Londa’s pregnant daughter’s boyfriend had been accused of playing a part in the murder of another man’s brother. Londa’s house was targeted, the man spraying the house with bullets in the hopes of avenging his brother’s death. But instead of hitting the guy he was after, the bullets blasted through the house and struck Londa’s pregnant daughter, wounding her and the unborn child.

“Now they’re at it again.” The woman paced, her hands on her hips. Her chest stayed high—as if she still held the breath she had taken earlier. “My daughter isn’t even living here anymore. Her boyfriend isn’t either. But they don’t care.”

“So your daughter and her baby—?” I said, fearing the answer.

“They’re okay, thankfully. But now I wanna move.”

Kay G surveyed the house and shook his head. “And this after you got the siding all replaced.”

Londa bit her lip and nodded. She held up a finger for us to stay, then she disappeared inside her home. I expected her to return with photos of the damage or the bill from her new siding, but instead, she came back holding fresh, cold plums. She handed one to Kay G and one to me, the grace of hospitality shining through her hard day. We ate the fruit as she described her fears at night, her worries for her family.

A car stopped in front of Londa’s place, and a woman climbed out. Kay G waved at her, then he turned to me, his voice low. “I’ll tell you her story sometime. It’s really something.”

The new visitor sauntered over and Kay G wrapped her in a hug. She made a joke about lasagna.

He patted his middle. “You’re gonna make me fat if you keep having me over.”

Then a car pulled up to the stop sign on the corner, and the driver nodded to us.

“I can’t believe it.” Kay G nudged me, smiling. “Look at the guy in that car.”

The guy parked his vehicle, slid out, and strode over to us. Kay G shook the man’s hand. I recognized him from one of Kay G’s newspaper clippings. In the picture, the two of them had stood together, grinning. Redemption captured in black and white.

Kay G looped his arm around the young man’s shoulders and introduced us. “This is Marco. He knocked off a convenience store last year. But he did his time, and now he walks with God.”

Marco’s face split into a wide smile. “Yeah, it’s true.”

On that sidewalk in north Minneapolis, the five of us talked. Finally, I glanced at the time. Decades and cities had passed by in one afternoon. And in this new world I had entered within my own neighborhood, everyone knew Kay G Wilson. But the mystery of a peace activist’s life was stripped down to the simple things: old stories and fresh beginnings, a broken window and a shaken friend, and plums and lasagna.

 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

© 2014 Tamara Jorell. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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