You read to me when I was a child. You wiped the blood from my knee and the tears from my eyes when I fell as a boy.
I am who I am because you were who you were.
You encouraged and believed in me when I was a teen. You were always there for me when i became a man. Through it all you put up with my nonsense and loved me unconditionally. You may be gone from this Earth but you walk with me everyday.
I am who I am because you were who you were.
You were: Loving, Caring, Demanding, Forgiving, Understanding, Supportive, Nurturing, and a million other things I could never list.
I am who I am because you were who you were and you were Frances Cooke my mother!
Saturday morning October 1, 1977 the sky is not blue in fact it’s very very grey and the rain has already started to fall. 11 year old Carl looked out the window sadden after all today was the day he was supposed to go to the big ballpark in the Bronx to see his favorite team the New York Yankees clinch the American League East. But my dad was not about to let a little rain ruin his son’s day. Let’s go he said and we headed out. We waited for the BX55 to 161st Street in the rain and while we waited and again on the ride my dad assured me that a little rain wasn’t going to ruin our day. We got to the Stadium and the tarp was still on the field, the thought that they would play a game was looking bleaker and bleaker. But then my dad said look at the scoreboard. Suddenly thousands of rain soaked fans were mesmerized by the scoreboard. Baltimore was playing Boston and if Baltimore won the Yankees clinched. It was starting to rain harder and my dad could easily have said we’re going home but he didn’t instead he said look at the dot (indicating which team was batting) it’s been on Baltimore for a while, they must be having a big inning (this is how we did it before smart phones) and when the scoreboard confirmed just that we would smile at each other and high five. Baltimore would eventually win 8-7 and the Yankees were AL East champions. My dad and I sat in the rain bonding over scoreboard updates and celebrating the Yankee winning the division without the Yankees ever taking the field. They eventually played the game, Yanks lost 10-7 to the Tigers, we were long gone by then but it didn’t matter because little 11 year old Carl was as happy as can be. My dad had assured me a little rain wasn’t going to ruin our day and he was right, he made sure of it. That why he was my dad!
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY CHARLES COOKE YOU WERE THE BEST!
My childhood surroundings were a bit of a contradiction. After all I grew up in what was technically the South Bronx but I lived in a house on a block filled with private homes. At the height of the borough’s decay a time when Howard Cosell famously decried on national television that the Bronx was burning the City had the great ideal to use Eminent Domain to take over all the homes across the street from where we lived. The ideal was to build a school but then the city teetered on bankruptcy and the school became nothing more than a dream and in its place stood a block of houses once filled with vibrant happy middle class families now nothing more than empty shells ready to be burned. Nevertheless my home always felt different. It was as if it was a million miles away from the garbage filled lot that sprang up across the street where the beautiful homes once stood and my backyard was my refuge.
The backyard was a place where as a child growing up alone I could be anyone my mind could imagine. Many a game 7 of the NBA finals between the Celtics and Lakers were played on the basketball court with me alternating between being Magic and Bird. Bird always hit the game winning three, hey I’m a Celtics fan we all have our faults. Oscar Gamble and his cool lean over the plate batting stance would make numerous appearances. My wiffle ball bat would cut threw the air launching the tennis ball, Spaulding rubber balls had way to much bounce for this game, high off the apartment building wall next door. Yet another game winning home run for Reggie Jackson and the Yankees. McEnroe and Borg had their epic battles at Wimbledon recreated in my backyard, though try as I might I could never get it pass Borg. It was almost like he was a wall, oh wait he was. Yes I may have been by myself but it was good times nevertheless.
The other thing my backyard had that made it unique from most of the Bronx was that it wasn’t a concrete playground. There were rose bushes red, pink and white. An apple tree and of course the centerpiece a majestic cherry tree. One year the cherry tree didn’t bloom, it had died and we had to cut it down. I never knew why it didn’t bloom that spring I just knew those sweet tasting cherries that were a part of every summer would be no more. Then one spring morning my mother said to me get up and come outside we’re going to plant a new cherry tree. Now I had never planted anything but I jumped at the thought of a new cherry tree. My mom told me where to dig the hole and we carefully took the small skinny cherry tree that she had brought out of its pot and transplanted it into the ground. Not nearly what the old tree was I said to my mom. She smiled at me, as only she could, and said give it time one day it will be. By the time I was in my 20s I would come to the family house each spring and smile as the little tree was now a big beautiful tree alive with hundreds of cherry blossoms. By summer the blossoms had become cherries and they always tasted sweeter than the ones in the store. Now that may have been my imagination making them seem sweeter than they were but hey the backyard was always the place for my imagination any way. Every time I looked at the cherry tree I would flash back to that day I planted it with my mom and smile. Give it time one day it will be she said and you know what she was right because today our cherry tree was.
When she passed away there wasn’t much I had to remember her by, a picture here a picture there but there would always be our cherry tree. But now I’m told, ironically on Mother’s Day weekend, that when the wind blows it sways just a bit to much. That people worry it may topple. That it has to go. Now I have never been one to let anyone in when it comes to my innermost feelings, which may explain why tears flow out of nowhere sometimes. But that’s a story for another time or the down payment on a European vacation for a lucky therapist. So to this day no one knows how much that tree really means to me. It was after all our tree, moms and me, and I didn’t feel to need to share that with anyone else. But you know what they say time moves on, people and things come and go and our little cherry tree that given time became a majestic cherry tree is no different. Lucky for me the backyard is a place where I could be anyone my mind could imagine so when I look at the place the cherry tree used to stand i’ll just imagine myself as that little boy planting a cherry tree with his mom. It might not seem the same at first but I’ll give it time and it will be.
For the last 57 days on my Facebook page I have posted the bios of distinguished men of color as a way to counterbalance the negative imagery portrayed in both regular and social media of minority males. I call my campaign “Who You Are and Who You Can Be. Controlling the narrative and defining ourself” Today’s spotlighted is very personal to me in that it’s my dad and well he was supercool so I decided to share it here.
Charles W. Cooke was born March 4, 1913 in the segregated south upon his graduation from high school he moved north to New York City in search of a better life. Blessed with a keen sense of entrepreneurship Mr. Cooke started three successful businesses a newsstand, the selling of leather goods and a lunch counter style diner.
Mr. Cooke and his wife of 49 years Francis Cooke (married on March 4th as well) were well known in their community as their door was always open to family and friends. Mr. Cooke was also known for his willingness to assist those in need and dispense wisdom and advice to the neighborhood youth.
At the age of 53 and having already raised two daughters Mr. Cooke once again showed everyone what kind of special man he was by adopting a new born child. That child could at times be a handful as he was known to throw a temper tantrum or two but Mr. Cooke never wavered in his love for that child treating him like his own flesh and blood. Mr. Cooke instilled in the young boy the importance of education, respect for women and imparted the moral values which he lived by. That young boy went on to graduate college and have a successful career in government and the world of not for profits and has lived his life by the moral code in which he was raised. I know all of this because that young boy is me.
After 33 years of service to the NYCTA Mr. Cooke retired but he remained active in the community and was a key person in the conversion of a block long empty lot into The Farm in the Bronx. A vibrant community garden that in collaboration with Cornell University produced tons of fruits and vegetables each year for the community. His work was recognized when the City of New York officially renamed the garden the Charles W. Cooke Farm.
It has been 27 years since Mr. Cooke has left this Earth but his spirit lives on in the many lives he touched and influenced including this sorta young man. So let me be one of the many to wish Charles W. Cooke, my dad, a very happy birthday!!
In life I’ve been blessed with family and friends who have always been there for me in good times and in bad. One of those friends is a little different from the rest. I’ve know him for 8 years he’s my roommate and one of my best buddies. He’s a big guy but not fat by any means he’s all muscle. He struts around in his brown fur coat all the time. Because of his size and his brown fur coat everyone calls Chewbacca, you know the giant brown wookie from Star Wars. One of the best things about Chewbacca or Chewy for short is that he has never judged me. Now he also has never offered me words of wisdom yet despite his silence I know he cares about me and that he will always be there for me. Chewy is an orange tabby,
All my life I thought of myself as a Dog person but 8 years ago I adopted Chewy and in those 8 years my life has gone through huge emotional swings. I’ve been the happiest I’ve ever been, the saddest I’ve ever been and all emotions in between. One thing however remained constant whenever I’ve had a tough day he always seems to know, he’ll pops up next to me and though he can’t talk it’s pretty clear what he’s saying. Hey Carl tough day? Want to talk about it? I mean I can’t answer you or offer you advise but as you know I’m a great listener. But before we begin as always full disclosure when we’re done here you’ve got to put pull it Together for a couple of minutes and fill my food and water dish. I mean those things not going to fill itself.
Animals are cool like that, they don’t judge and they’re always there for you. You should never under estimate how important they are in your life. Here’s to you Chewbacca my cool cat friend your dish is filled.