This article has nothing to do with any city named Cleveland to include the one in Ohio, nor does it have anything to do with the expensive high-rise offices in that city by the same name as the title of this brief story may lead you to believe.
This story is about characters with character.
More specifically a character with character.
Recently (Before the Kung Fu Flu) “Doc” the World-Famous Black Lab and I were getting acquainted with our new home in South Carolina and I asked a few local people in town where I could get some good local seafood.
I was told the best place in the area was a hole in the wall in the middle of nowhere near the river called “Bush’s”, but a couple of people said as a statement or a warning I am not quite sure.
“It’s on the black side of town across the railroad tracks”
So “Doc” and I headed out to the restaurant down by the river in search of the best seafood in the area.
I almost missed the sign for the restaurant that had faded over the years from the South Carolina sun.
The gravel parking lot was dusty and unkept with no shortage of potholes mingled with the occasion mudhole. I told “Doc”; this is our kind of place.
I left “Doc” in the vehicle and walked in and indeed I was the only white person in the restaurant.
But unlike what the national news media would like for you to believe hate doesn’t grow like the grass in the South. Sure, there is the occasional weed here and there of hate, as there is everywhere, but it’s hard to find in my South where love is always blooming.
As soon as I opened the door I was greeted with,
“Hey baby, you eating in or taking out?”
EDITORS NOTE: This is one of the dearest things I love about My South, a waitress or a hostess talking to me with such terms of endearment. I will never grow tired of that and I pray we never lose it.
With a “Yes ma’am I will need a to-go order please”, I was shown to my table while I made my selection and making a mental note to order some extra hushpuppies “to go” for Doc as he loves him some hushpuppies.
EDITORS NOTE: Don’t judge “Doc”, just don’t…
The grease stained paper menu was chocked full of some of my favorites and few I haven’t seen in seemingly forever.
Other than my favorites of fried catfish, hushpuppies, shrimp, oysters there was also steamed freshwater clams or mussels as we refer to them in the South and there was also “Chitlin’s”.
In the event you don’t know what Chitlin’s are, let me tell you about it.
Simply put they are….
The intestines of a pig, boiled down, fried up, and served with apple cider vinegar and hot sauce.
I more or less said softly out loud to myself….
“I don’t remember the last time I saw Chitlin’s on a menu”
An older black gentleman with nearly white hair one table over, looked over and smiled at me and half joking said, “What in the world do you know about Chitlin’s son?”
I returned the smile and said rather matter of fact, “I happen to know all there is know about Chitlin’s”
The man smiled and said, “Well all right then” and returned to his lunch.
Never one to miss an opportunity, I said “Hang on there a minute, I have a question for you.”
I stuck my hand out and introduced myself and as he smiled, he said, “I am Cleveland Towers, but you can call me Cleve, everybody does.”
Don’t ask me why I said what I said or asked the question that was about to come out of my mouth, because I can’t tell you, it just happened.
A second or so after Cleve introduced himself, I said “You look like a man with a story to tell, I like characters with character.”
Cleve smiled, and someone nearby said out loud,
“Well he shore nough is a character I can promise you that!”
Several people laughed others giggled and it was warm, not mocking or demeaning, just warm and inviting laughter.
Mister Cleve then looked over at me and asked me what I wanted to know…
I don’t know why I said this, or asked it, I just don’t know but I asked
“What’s the worst whipping you ever got from your parents growing up?”
While half the restaurant was giggling, the other half started scooting their chairs over to hear the story
What I have transcribed here is what I like to refer to now as Mister Cleveland, Holding Court.
“Lord son, my little brother and I were just talking about that last Sunday in Church….
I am eighty years old and I was born before my Daddy went off to World War Two and my little brother. the one I just told you about, his name is Ralph after my Daddy’s Daddy, my Grandfather.
It was 1952 and my Daddy was a truck driver for the Textile Mill located right over the hill there, if you look out the window you can still see the buildings, and my Momma worked in the Mill too as a seamstress and she was working third shift.
We lived down the road a ways from here, I was twelve years old and my brother was eight. Almost across the street from where you now set, there was a pet store, it’s gone now, and that building has been a number of things over the years, but in 1952 there was a pet shop there and they had a monkey in there and my little brother and I wanted it.”
EDITORS NOTE: I love the way Mister Cleveland said “Monkey”, he didn’t pronounce it as Monkey, but more like “MOUNK-KEY”, as in two words drawn out to make one word. I loved it.
“Well, even doing chores and cutting grass, which my little brother and I did all the time during the summer while Momma and Daddy was working, we couldn’t make enough money to ever buy us that Monkey (MOUNK-KEY).
So, we got the idea that we was going to steal us that monkey (MOUNK-KEY) and tell Momma and Daddy we done went and bought that monkey (MOUNK-KEY) when they got home and they asked us about it.”
EDITORS NOTE: You got to love “Kid’s Logic”….
“One morning before the pet store opened me and my brother done snuck down there and broke in the pet store and stole us that monkey (MOUNK-KEY), cage and all and we raced home with him.
We put that cage on Momma’s dining room table and went outside to get our story together about the monkey (MOUNK-KEY), before Momma got home from the third shift, she was a working at the Textile Mill.
My Momma pulled up in a car with some other ladies as we only had one car in those days and Daddy drove the car to work for his job, while Momma and some other ladies at the Mill car-pooled.
Momma got out of the car with her big metal lunch bucket looking tired as she always did, working that third shift and she said good-bye to the other ladies in the car as they pulled away from our house.
I put on my big smile and Ralph and I ran up to my Momma in the driveway and gave her a big hug and I told her
“Momma I love you so much and you have working so hard that Ralph and I are going to clean the whole house for you today!”
“My Momma just grinned and hugged us back and said we were her precious little angels and that she loved us both, it was then I suggested that Momma go over to Miss Gladys’s house next door and rest her feet and visit with Miss Gladys while Ralph and I cleaned the house up.”
EDITORS NOTE: Apparently others in Mister Cleveland’s Court this day had heard this story because a few people started giggling in anticipation of what was going to be said next.
Mister Cleveland stopped talking for a moment and looked around briefly and then lowered his voice
“While me and Ralph was loving on Momma and trying to get her to go next door, let me tell you..
That dirty little bastard got out of his cage, I don’t know how he done it, but he did cause the next thing I heard was Momma’s curtains and blinds being pulled down from the front windows of the house and that dirty little monkey (MOUNK-KEY) bastard humping his personal business on the window and screaming like something wild in the jungle and waving his arms in the air like he was enjoying it.
I didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t believe my eyes or my ears with that thing yelling.
I looked at Momma and she was staring at that monkey (MOUNK-KEY), humping the window and in one second, she swung that big heavy metal lunch bucket she was carrying right at me and I ducked just in time, but it hit Ralph on the top of the head and it knocked him the hell out.
I looked down at Ralph collapsed in the driveway, with a big ole punk knot on his head and Momma didn’t even look at me, all she said over her shoulder was “Wait till Your daddy get’s home” and she was headed over to Miss Glady’s House next door.
I don’t know how long I was there trying to wake Ralph up, cause I thought he might be dead if he wasn’t moaning so loudly, and it was about the same time I got Ralph up on his feet that my Daddy pulled in the driveway in his Oldsmobile.
I was expecting something bad, like real bad and my mind was going a hundred and fifty miles an hour.
My Daddy got out of the car calmly and shut the car door just as easy as you please.
He was walking slowly, calmly past my brother and I just like everything was normal.
Until he got past us and said over his shoulder….
“You two stay right where you are, I am going to kill you both in just a minute”
EDITORS NOTE: There was warm laughter in the restaurant when Mister Cleveland said that. No one was uncomfortable, not the white man in a black restaurant or it’s patrons.
You want to know why?
Because there was nothing mean going on, it’s all about loving one another, that’s why.
Enough about me, let’s get back to Mister Cleveland….
“Let me tell you something son, my Daddy walked in the house and left the door opened and without raising his voice, he “Meaned” that monkey (MOUNK-KEY) out of that house. I don’t know how he done it, because me and my brother stayed right in the driveway where my Daddy told us to stay but I will tell you that my Daddy must have scared that damn monkey (MOUNK-KEY) half to death cause we never saw him again.
I got my little brother standing up straight when my Daddy came out of the house and he came over to us and calmly asked where we got that damn monkey (MOUNK-KEY).
I was stuttering something I don’t know what and then my little brother came out of his daze from Momma hitting him in the head and spilled every damn one of the beans right then and there.
My Daddy calmly listened while nodding his head…
My Daddy was so calm that I got to thinking Ralph and I was getting ready to get out of this capper.
My Brother and I got an ass whopping so bad from Daddy that I thought both of us was going to be cripples for the rest of our lives. I felt bad for my brother later, not at the time. Just thinking he got a knot on his head got knocked the hell out and still got his ass whopped.
But I will tell you my damn ass hurt all summer and that ain’t no lie neither.
You want to know something else?
My Daddy marched me and my brother down to that pet store after our ass whopping and to tell you the truth I don’t know how either of us walked, but we had to admit what we done, apologize and pay for the damage we done and pay for that damn monkey (MOUNK-KEY) too.
Ralph and me worked for a year and a half to pay for everything and my Daddy saw to it too.
Now if that wasn’t bad enough my brother and I had to sleep on the front porch for two weeks until Momma got all the smell out of the house, she bleached and used pine sole on everything and I mean she cleaned that house over and over until it was spotless.
Because let me tell you something about a damn monkey (MOUNK-KEY) what them damn things don’t poop on they pee on or tear all to hell.
Then even after all that we was allowed back in the house, but every once in a while, Momma would catch a whiff of something out of place, maybe it was monkey (MOUNK-KEY) poop I don’t know, and she would take to whopping my brother and I’s ass with a shoe or a belt or whatever was handy.
It was long damn summer I tell you.”
With the howls of laughter and my hostess telling me my “To-Go” order was ready I shook Mister Cleveland’s hand, paid my bill and headed for the door.
But not before I thanked him for sharing that story with me…
Because I was and am thankful, he shared that story, his time with me.
Mister Cleveland said as I was going out the door
“Come on back son when you aren’t busy, I got lot’s more to tell you.”
I won’t ever be “So Busy” that I can’t make time to listen to Mister Cleveland, you can believe that.
I will be seeing him soon, very soon.
Because there aren’t enough characters with character left in this world.
You can believe that too.