I love you, Porgy, don’t ever leave me!
Janelle Meraz Hooper
The only thing that prevented my mom and I from being homeless when I was in the third grade was the house my Uncle Emmett had purchased for my grandmother. I’m sure he never thought that his gift to his mother would result in her throwing open the doors to the whole family. But that’s just what she did. Anyone who needed a place to stay for a few days crashed at my grandmother’s. My mom and I stayed the longest. Nowadays, I read in the newspaper about families living in their cars. My mom didn’t have a car. I don’t know what would have become of us if my grandmother hadn’t let us move in.
I didn’t have much in those days. Mom had been forced to throw away my rock and seashell collections. I had some dolls in a cardboard box at the bottom of my closet. I was up to ninety-nine of them before we had to get rid of them. Most of them were very small, not much bigger than my little finger. But one day, they were gone. I can’t remember ever asking why.
That left me with my clothes that hung in a small closet, a toothbrush in the bathroom, and a stack of library books that I was allowed to keep on the floor in the living room. That was it. And I was glad for it; I can’t remember ever complaining.
Anyway, I didn’t need toys. I lived mostly in my head: I was going to go to Broadway and become a star. I had few talents to achieve my goal; I was a so-so actress and a worse than that dancer (much worse!). When I wasn’t planning my big career, I sat on the floor and read my library books.
My uncle Emmett, who was dean of men and a math teacher at the local college, lived with us. I never saw a lot of him; he was very busy! One day, after school, the door to his bedroom was closed but he wasn’t home. I didn’t think anything about it. I quietly went into the kitchen and grabbed a cold tortilla and settled down on the floor in the living room with my books.
That evening, my Uncle called me into his bedroom—I couldn’t remember ever being invited there before. The first thing I saw was a brand-new, shiny stereo cabinet against the wall. It was one of those that had stereo and radio in a wooden box almost the size of a coffin. That’s why my grandmother had closed his door, to protect the stereo! I stared at it with my mouth open, I’m sure. I had never been so close to something so beautiful!
But wait, there was more! My uncle picked up a stack of albums and handed them to me. I was afraid to touch them but he assured me that I was welcome to come into his room when he was gone and listen to his records whenever I wanted. I looked through the stack of albums in a daze: Porgy & Bess, South Pacific, Annie Get Your Gun, Flower Drum Song, The King and I!
I took very good care of that stereo and the albums. I always sat on the floor—never on my uncle’s furniture—and never, ever took food into his room. Not even a peeled carrot. If anyone would have asked me where heaven was, I wouldn’t have hesitated before pointing toward my uncle’s room.
I’ll never forget what he did for me. “Got no mansion, got no yacht. Still I’m happy for what I’ve got. I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night…” (from Annie Get Your Gun)
Thanks, Uncle Emmett.